Please welcome our newest official chapter, coming from Jacksonville, Florida, the University of North Florida (UNF)! The initial spark for the UNF chapter was put in place by our AMPLIFY Project, so I’d like to extend a special thanks to them for all of the hard work that they do!
I spoke with chapter founder, faculty advisor, and former leader Meghan Orman about her experience building the chapter and what their plans are for the chapter’s future;
How did you hear about SSDP?
I first heard of SSDP about three years ago through teaching Contemporary Ethical Issues at UNF. In this course we study drug legalization, in particular Ethan Nadelmann and the Drug Policy Alliance. Through my research in these areas I came across SSDP and ESDP, which I have been associated with since late 2012.
Earth Night, however, served as the catalyst for our involvement with SSDP in Northeast Florida. Brooke Napier and Brian Gilbert had an SSDP/AMPLIFY table set up at Earth Night 2012 in Ohio. I had already been in contact with Brooke prior to Earth Night through Facebook, and was very much looking forward to their table at the celebration. The whole atmosphere of Earth Night (Brian and Brooke, the workshops and the celebration) served as an catalyst to become actively involved with SSDP by starting a chapter at UNF during the Spring 2013 semester.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
In addition to our Earth Night experience, many of us have had a long-standing understanding of the failed drug policies of our nation stemming back decades now. We all feel as though the humanitarian costs of the “war on drugs,” including the incarceration of nonviolent offenders, the infringement of personal liberties, and the loss of human productivity, have led our society astray from the democratic ideals we so highly applaud in our nation. We feel as though our nation should be leading the world in drug policy reforms which focus on education and harm reduction/prevention; this would be most democratic. To do so, we congratulate and join the efforts of SSDP and similar organizations (DPA, NORML, PUFFM, etc.) in order to push drug policy reform forward.
What has the reception been like on campus?
The reception on campus, generally speaking, has been minimal so far, as most of Spring 2013 was spent gathering founding members and becoming an official student organization. However, we do expect positive reception on campus in the semesters to come as UNF in particular, and Jacksonville at large, has a need for policy awareness and reform. From the founding members of our chapter we have had excellent reception. The students involved here at UNF seem to be dedicated to the cause and very enthusiastic about our potential to create reforms in Northeast Florida. We expect nothing less from the faculty and staff members at UNF as well.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
Next semester we plan on expanding the chapter in many ways. On campus, we will focus on recruiting more UNF chapter members through the Student Union and campus events. We will also work to educate UNF faculty and staff about SSDP and our local, regional and global efforts and encourage participation through numerous outlets. We also hope to work with UPD on current UNF policies, especially in dormitories. As students and educators, all of us want UNF to be a safe and resourceful environment for learning, and we want students and faculty alike who excel. Together, we feel as though our efforts can provide this atmosphere in Northeast Florida.
We also expect to work closely with the AMPLIFY Project to spread SSDP throughout our community!
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
The most challenging part so far is everyone’s busy schedules; for the fall semester we need better coordinated events and more use of internet communication resources.
What is the most rewarding part?
This semester, the most rewarding part has been becoming an officially recognized UNF Student Organization and seeing the reception from the founding members. We are very excited to be expanding SSDP to Northeast Florida!
What are you most excited about right now?
As previously stated, right now we are very excited to be expanding SSDP to Northeast Florida. We feel as though UNF can benefit greatly from our combined efforts with UPD to make campus a safe environment for real, democratic education.
What is your vision for UNF SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
In a year, we hope to be working with UPD to implement harm reduction/prevention policies on campus, especially in the dormitories. Some goals include implementing a policy which would have UPD officers issue citations to students found in possession of small amounts of marijuana on campus, instead of the current policies which include criminal arrest. Also, we would like to set up immunity for students who call to report an overdose on campus. We would also like to work with Jacksonville Beach to decriminalize marijuana, and the state of Florida to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. In 4 or 5 years, we hope to be part of a strong national and international SSDP network helping to make positive policy changes in communities across the world that will foster true democratic learning environments.