I’m thrilled to introduce our newest SSDP chapter in the Mid-Atlantic Region: University of Pittsburgh SSDP! Reviving the chapter after being defunct for about a year, chapter leaders Eva Louise, Alyssa, and Kory have gotten off to a quick start this semester. I spoke with the three of them about their experiences so far and what they have planned for the future: How did you hear about SSDP?
Alyssa and Kory heard about SSDP through Kory’s brother, Kyle, who was previously the chapter leader of Virginia Tech SSDP. They got Eva Louise on board to revive the chapter at Pitt. Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
EVA LOUISE: I’ve personally lost too many people to overdoses for me to sit idle. Our school system has failed in drug education. Taking an abstinence-only approach to drugs and alcohol, things that nearly all college students use is irresponsible and not based in reality. We want to give people information that is based on fact so they can make safe decisions.
ALYSSA: Personal experiences at home led me to question what programs/procedures the University had in place for substance abuse, and whether or not there was a student group working on related things. I was disappointed, not surprised, by what I found out about the University. However, I was shocked to see there was no student group on campus given what a relevant issue this is in Pennsylvania.
KORY: I believe that the drug war has done terrible damage to the knowledge people have about drug use, and the abstinence based teaching has done terrible damage. As a result, I think it’s crucial that there is an organization on campus educating students on the facts about drugs and harm reduction. What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
EVA LOUISE: So far, we’ve been pretty well received by faculty. Students also seem to be very interested in what we’re about and the plans we have for the future.
ALYSSA: We have been well received by students, faculty, and staff for the most part. Some members of the administration have expressed concern that “we’re kids trying to legalize pot” but a clarification of the broader goals of our group has kept this sort of skepticism at bay. What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
EVA LOUISE: In a few weeks, we are attending a community Narcan training and distribution event.
ALYSSA: Recruitment for our newly formed chapter and preliminary campus education are our first orders of business.
KORY: Canvassing for members and educating students, distributing literature, and doing pieces of training. What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
EVA LOUISE: I think getting the word out and having people join our club is the most challenging part.
ALYSSA: Getting the word out about our group, and deciding on a first project. What is the most rewarding part?
EVA LOUISE: Seeing people come out and want to join SSDP is really moving. Some members have a personal connection with the work we’re doing, while others are just passionate about it regardless.
ALYSSA: The thought that we could be saving lives with this is really empowering.
KORY: The fact that we are providing people with life-saving information. What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ssdp/drug policy right now?
EVA LOUISE: I’m excited to be a group of students reaching out to our university and changing policies by educating the decision-makers.
ALYSSA: Can’t wait to throw some facts in the face of decision makers.
KORY: I’m excited about trying to make some sort of difference in Allegheny County with regards to how the Opioid epidemic is thought of and handled. What is your vision for Pitt? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
EVA LOUISE: By the end of this year, I’d love to see us have a firm standing as an organization at Pitt and in the community, by a strong reputation for good action. Further on, I’d like to see us really be a respected presence in different Pitt departments, such as the counseling and health center, student affairs, and even the campus police.
ALYSSA: Definitely looking for longevity! Former chapters of SSDP at Pitt have all died off very quickly, so getting a solid foundation down with membership and early small wins is vital. After that, I really think the direction of the club will be dependent on the types of responses we get from the administration.
KORY: I’d like to see an organization that has made change in the way the university approaches its drug policy, and an organization capable of direct action that reaches into our surrounding communities. First and foremost, however, we must build up the people power necessary to achieve any such goals.