I am thrilled to announce our newest chapter in New York City, Hunter College! Chapter leader Sabrina Bodé is an SSDP veteran, having previously served as chapter leader of the SUNY New Paltz chapter before transferring to Hunter this semester. She has already made an impact on her campus and is striving to create a vibrant network of student activism within the CUNY school system. I asked Sabrina some questions about her progress thus far and her goals for the future:
How did you hear about SSDP?
I was initially introduced to SSDP at SUNY New Paltz, my previous school. While walking through campus, some enthusiastic students approached me and inquired about my stance on the Drug War. With preexisting experience in dealing with the many injustices that stem from our current drug policies, I immediately took interest in what this club was all about. After attending my first SSDP meeting, I was in awe at the accomplishments SSDP had already made at that point in time (Fall 2013). I then ran for the New Paltz SSDP executive board, and was a member of our High Council by the following semester. Once sophomore year came around, I had been actively involved in SSDP from regional conferences to campus protests. I received a spot on the board again in Fall 2014, and by Spring 2015, I was elected chapter president. My origin chapter mobilized me to be where I am currently – beginning a new chapter at CUNY Hunter College. I look forward to what is in store for drug policy here in NYC.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
Once settled in at Hunter, I was absolutely sure my first order of business was to contact the Student Government and inquire about starting a club. Once I sent in my application, I impatiently waited for their validation to gain recognition on campus. With all the knowledge I received at New Paltz, as well as my experience with SSDP on a national-scale, I was certain the more presence we had in New York City would only further our growth and progress. As I had attended high school just up the block from Hunter, I was aware of the need for more discussion regarding drug policy on the Upper East Side. Being the wealthiest zip code in the United States, this unique part of Manhattan epitomizes the political and socioeconomic problems related to the failing War on Drugs. Class and racial lines are blatant while riding the 6 train, and the criminalization of drug users, as well as the misinformation regarding policy and sensibility is definitely a pressing issue here on the East side. Therefore, starting up a new chapter was the most direct and effective route for me to take in addressing these concerns and needs.
What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
As many SSDPers know, beginning or promoting a chapter is always a difficult experience. Being unsure of others’ reception of a student-run club desiring to legalize drugs, we need to meet each person with the correct rhetoric and approach. Due to propaganda and misconceptions surrounding drug use, one is somewhat anxious in getting the word out there. Luckily, however, I am grateful Hunter is such a diverse, progressive, and mindful community. Many students in my classes took interest right away and gave me their emails in order to gain more information and start attending meetings. My teachers (predominantly Political Science professors) were absolutely behind the movement. Many of my professors incorporate discussion pertaining to the Drug War in my classes, so I was reassured once the club was approved by the Student Government. I have yet to witness the reception of the administration, but I do not fret over making SSDP’s presence known and working to accomplish proper justice on Hunter’s campus.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
Being in the heart of NYC, I think bringing students to networking and interdisciplinary events will ignite passion and interest in the cause. With many in the metropolitan area, I continue to search for such events and share them with my peers. Also, I intend to begin matters on campus with a film screening of Eddie Einbinder’s Play Safe: How to Have Fun and Not Die. At New Paltz, the screening and talk with Eddie proved to intrigue students and permit SSDP to gain a strong following. With Eddie also here on the Upper East Side, I have scheduled appointments to meet with colleagues of his who work in drug policy, as well as organizations which intersect with our mission. I have made initiatives to collaborate with other clubs here on campus, from the Urban Studies club to the Anti-Racist Collective at Hunter (ARCH), which I am sure will expand our horizons and capabilities here on campus. For a significant amount of time, I have also worked with Occupy Weed Street, “a cross-disciplinary movement founded by a coalition of policy experts from Empire State NORML and social justice activists.” Now that I am back in NYC, I intend to bring our chapter to an OWS event downtown in Washington Square Park. Being exposed to many different sides of the movement, as well as ally groups, will only lead to Hunter SSDP’s success and evolution. An in-depth look at Hunter’s drug policy, as well as drug policy here in NYC, will also be of our highest priorities.
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
Being a transfer student, I am a lonesome ranger on the quest to recruit as many students as possible. So far, this has been the most challenging part, but nonetheless, the position I am in only benefits my abilities to reach out, network, and promote SSDP. I am much more conscious of my rhetoric, my own story, and my reason for being apart of this organization. Some days, I am skeptical of how I will be perceived when announcing the club I am starting up to a room full of strangers. Gratefully, I have received a significant amount of support, so with each day, the task becomes easier and easier. I have established new friendships with like-minded people due to the recruitment process, and have gained greater experience in what is essential to accomplishing the goals of SSDP.
What is the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part of starting a new chapter, specifically in NYC, is the new connection I have with my home city. New York City is a major threshold for drug policy at this moment in history. With a medical marijuana dispensary opening here in 2016, the movement has finally just begun. In analyzing other states who have made the transition on policies regarding marijuana, we know that medical legislation is always the first step. Therefore, I have high hopes for our potential here at Hunter. The doors have been opened, and power is now in the hands of the students to keep the progression alive. When I sit in class and hear professors discuss the War on Drugs, encouraging students to develop their own perspectives in regards to drug policy, including health and crime, the experience is absolutely rewarding. Exposing peers to the shortcomings of our current systems, especially within the policies I am most passionate about, surely makes all the effort worthwhile. Still, many people are in the dark regarding drug policy and its implementations and effects. With a long history of New York politicians priding themselves on being “tough on crime” and having “zero tolerance” for drug use, the fearful and unquestioning mindsets of the masses is absolutely understandable. But, as New York City makes monumental movements to alter this destructive way of thinking, I am very excited to see the transition play out on college campuses within the urban area.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ssdp/drug policy right now?
I believe the opening of a dispensary will have a ripple effect across the city, which will inevitably reach Hunter College students. After researching Hunter’s drug policy, I intend to receive a more cohesive, detailed policy regarding drug use. As per usual, the policy is referred to as ‘Alcohol & Drug Policy,’ which we know is infuriating and redundant. The policy pardons all those above the age of 21, but lays the law down for any underage drinkers caught on campus. In regards to all other drugs, the policy coincides with New York State law, therefore, the state continues to be the main target in policy change. The policy reads, “The unlawful possession, use or distribution of drugs is prohibited on the campus. Violators will be subject to penalties ranging from reprimand and warning for a first infraction, to separation from the college for a subsequent offense” (Alcohol & Drug Policy). I am excited to reach out to any students affected by Hunter’s policy and to hear their stories. Being new on campus, I am curious as to whether or not Hunter, being a commuter school, has a reputation of severely and unjustly penalizing their students in regards to drug use.
What is your vision for Hunter? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
My vision for Hunter SSDP is to create and ensure a strong presence within the entire CUNY system. As I have mingled and networked around campus, I have had the opportunity to learn about the exceptional organizations that have established prominence with almost all other colleges in the metropolitan area. Together, the CUNY colleges can develop a powerful, collective force of students. I believe we have the potential to make drug policy a constant conversation for every generation passing through the many City Universities of New York. As Baruch and the CUNY School of Law have also recently started up SSDP chapters, I am in great anticipation of what the future holds. With drug policy in the limelight, especially in NYC, I forecast Hunter’s presence right within the frame of the necessary changes to come.