Students and faculty are working to shed the “stoner” stereotype of a college organization. They say Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an international campus group that is sometimes viewed as controversial, represents professionalism, leadership and a bold concern for human rights. Most universities are supportive of the campus chapters, students say.
“There’s a misconception, I think, about SSDP, that it’s for people who use drugs, but it’s really not. It’s about health and social justice,” says Kathleen Kane-Willis, a Roosevelt University SSDP staff adviser. “It’s a great, great experience for young people in college to learn how to change things that matter to them, whatever that might be.”
SSDP began in 1998 as a response to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 — policy that cut off loans and grants for students convicted of drug use. It’s taken on a general disposition with the War on Drugs over the years, citing its inefficiency, while championing individual choice, substance education and united youth. Hundreds of autonomous chapters call campuses home all across the country.
Roosevelt University is but one school on that long list, but Willis says the Illinois-based university hosts one of the more active SSDP chapters — winning “an outstanding chapter award” twice.
Willis says the school works closely with her students on matters of drug education and school policy. Roosevelt’s own Good Samaritan Law (a piece of campus legislation that protects witnesses who help overdose victims) was a result of working directly with SSDP. In general, her students aim to reshape the conversation on campus through counseling services and programs like Just Say Know, another national association aimed at “factual” drug education. Willis says the university is very receptive to the work they do.
“Roosevelt was founded on a social justice mission,” Willis says. “It was a natural fit for the university to show us such support.”
Not everyone is supportive, though. Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, says it’s “unfortunate” to see “so much time, energy and resources” dedicated to “unhealthy choices.” She denies any benefit for students in terms of developing leadership skills, and she says “true leadership should be based upon honesty and integrity … SSDP provides none of this.”
Alec Foster, 20, a political communications major and the president and founder of the New York University SSDP chapter, disagrees. He’s a former White House intern currently spending his summer working for Google. He says SSDP helped him realize his potential to lead, guiding him toward such opportunities at a young age.
Overall, Foster says campus activism is essential to long-term policy change in drugs laws. He says NYU is recognizing that. The school chose him to be the co-chair of the student health advising board. He says this is a statement on the university’s part.
“The fact that NYU, knowing I was a drug policy activist, chose me to be their co-chair says a lot about the changing tone,” says Foster, now chair of the board. “We aren’t just activists or advocates. SSDPers are mediators, and we’ve grown more powerful in closed door meetings.”
That conversation continues. As more attention is focused on marijuana legalization, functions like SSDP will only celebrate a continued, if not elevated, position in the debate. For Sunil Aggarwal, an NYU SSDP staff adviser, that’s almost sweet enough.
“It’s something we should be proud of,” he says. “It goes past what we call the ‘D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Generation,’ where the youth were improperly educated about drugs … Now these guys can think about sensible approaches and nail the facts.”
Clarification: Alec Foster, though chosen as a co-chair, is now the chair of the student health advising board at NYU.
Powered by Facebook Comments