I’m thrilled to introduce our newest SSDP chapter in New York at SUNY Albany Graduate School! Over the past year, the SUNY Albany SSDP chapter has been among the most efficient and active chapters in the entire network. Several of the members, including chapter leader Lauren Parasconda, graduated last year and made the decision to start up a new SSDP chapter in Albany made up of grad students. I spoke with Lauren and the chapter’s new e-board about their progress so far and their goals for this academic year:
How did you hear about SSDP?
I first heard about SSDP through my good friend Katie Stone (one of the board directors and an SSDP Chapter leader from UCDavis). We met while volunteering for the MAPS Conference in Spring 2013. While I was at the MAPS conference I met Devon Tackles who was one of the Outreach Directors for SSDP at the time. I was trying to start a chapter at my old school, but soon after transferred to UAlbany. I was going to start a chapter there my first semester but there was already one in the process of being started when I transferred in Fall 2014. It was all uphill from there.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
After volunteering for the MAPS conference I began to develop a passion for everything involving drug policy, psychedelic research, and harm reduction. I was a Chapter Leader for the UAlbany Undergraduate chapter and I want to continue my activism at the Graduate Level.
What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
Honestly, trying to get students involved at the undergraduate level has been tough work. Luckily we are combining the work of both our chapters in order to have more members. Since I’m a Social Work Graduate Student, I’ve luckily started to see that there are a lot more students interested in drug policy reform being that it falls into a lot of the social justice work we doing in our profession.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
We are planning on implementing more harm reduction onto our campus. We are in the works of setting up Narcan training through a local Albany harm reduction facility. Our members have also started the Peer Education Training Program. Another one of our goals is to have more speakers from recognized drug policy organizations. So far this semester we had 1 event where we did some fundraising, as well as handed out ribbons in remembrance for the many lives affected by a drug overdose. We also handed out resources about how to prevent and respond to an overdose. These resources included information for local harm reduction services, treatment, and meetings. I would like our members to get involved with helping with the 12-step meetings that are held in our counseling services center on campus. Our Vice President for the Graduate chapter, Karissa Doerr has started a blog related to all things drug policy (more info to come once its up and running but its almost done).
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
Fundraising and getting more students involved. Our campus is huge and diverse yet we see how much stigma is still attached to what we’re fighting against.
What is the most rewarding part?
Having a hard working and small group of members to create change on our campus and community. Being recognized by our school for the work we’ve been doing on campus. We were awarded the “UAlbany Justice Award” in Spring 2016.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ssdp/drug policy right now?
Round 2 at trying to make HEMP Fest happen on campus! Since we are hoping that this will be a large scale event, we believe it will change the way that some students on campus view us.
What is your vision for SUNY Albany Grad School? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
I see our Graduate students being able to bring a lot of change to what we’ve already been doing as a UAlbany chapter. Graduate students have a lot more resources available to them, being that we’re involved with internships and research. For example, Our new Treasurer, Liz Light, is working at the Albany VA Hospital, where she is working with Veterans that are struggling with substance abuse issues. I am also a counselor at a local in-patient treatment center.
I’m so excited about the future of our Graduate Chapter. It has been my dream to start this chapter and it’s finally coming true!