New student group calls for sensible drug policies

By MARIA BOBBITT-CHERTOCK, C GREEN, KINERET GRANT-SASSON, AMY EGAN, and LILY SHALE

Because our friends have been punished for drug use, or have had nowhere to go for adequate treatment and counseling, we, the members of Middlebury’s new Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) chapter, have come together to support substance users on campus and in the broader community. We want to stand up with and for those among us who have experienced unwanted institutional scrutiny and neglect. We also want to emphasize and encourage the work students already do — on their own, often without realizing it — to keep each other safe when they use drugs or alcohol.

This October, our original Middlebury interest group elected to become part of SSDP, which is an international grassroots network of students dedicated to ending the war on drugs via harm reduction strategies. Harm reduction is an advocacy framework that recognizes that drug use is a part of our social reality and so strives to mitigate its harmful effects rather than punish those involved in the use and proliferation of licit and illicit drugs. Harm reductionists work to complicate dominant ideas about drugs and addiction, empower users to participate in drug policy-making, develop empathetic services and resources for users, and educate about safe drug use without preaching abstinence. Given Middlebury’s spatial and socioeconomic context, our SSDP chapter especially seeks to recognize the ways in which, as the Harm Reduction Coalition writes, “the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.”

Middlebury has already enacted certain policies that align with SSDP’s framework. For instance, the college’s Good Samaritan Policy protects student drug users who might otherwise be wary of seeking medical care for fear of punishment. The Health & Wellness Office offers education sessions for students who use alcohol, cannabis and tobacco, and it hopes to have organized education for students who use narcotics by next fall.

However, when operating within an overarching, persistent culture of abstinence, shame or punishment, isolated policies and measures like these cannot reach their fullest potential. For instance, many students remain reluctant to use these services because of the stigma that surrounds them and fear of repercussions from the administration. Middlebury’s approach to safety is perhaps epitomized by Community Council’s decision (publicized earlier this semester) to install dozens of new surveillance cameras in areas of campus where illicit behavior has been previously reported or suspected. As preventative measures typically foreshadow, even mimic punitive measures — take for example how the administration used video footage of the Charles Murray protest to punitively target student activists — we must fundamentally reorient the logics of Middlebury’s institutional policy making.

To that end, our SSDP chapter’s first initiative is to host a Narcan/Naloxone training session for students. Narcan is a safe and easy-to-administer emergency treatment for opioid overdoses. We believe that organizing a Narcan training would foster a culture of community responsibility and care. Such an event would not be without precedent, either; many other U.S. colleges have hosted trainings (Yale, Columbia, Wesleyan, Stony Brook, The New School, Ithaca, Beloit, Mt. Holyoke, to name a few). Moreover, Public Safety has already elected to be trained in Narcan administration (which shows that Public Safety officers have observed or at least suspect the potential need for this training on campus).

Our hope going forward is to create and participate in other, similar initiatives to support our broader community in the town of Middlebury and Addison County. For example, we hope to volunteer at statewide expungement clinics, which help people with past criminal convictions update their records in accordance with statutes of limitation and changes in the law. We will also support bill H.162, a proposal to legalize the opioid addiction treatment drug buprenorphine, when it returns to the Vermont Statehouse in January. 

If you would like to learn more about SSDP and the work we do, you can email us at [email protected], or attend one of our weekly meetings, on Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Queer Studies House.

Signed Maria Bobbitt-Chertock ’19.5, C Green ’19.5, Kineret Grant-Sasson ’20, Amy Egan ’21, Lily Shale ’20, and the rest of Middlebury’s new Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter.