SSDP Spotlight: Just Say Know, a peer education program for everyone

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is an international grassroots, student-led organization working to end the war on drugs. Officially founded in 1998, SSDP’s first political action was against the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty (HEAAEP), which would prevent any federal financial aid applicant with an adult drug conviction from receiving federal financial aid for at least a year. SSDP’s first national action was a protest at the College Convention in January 2000. By spring, Hampshire College created a reimbursement program for students impacted by HEAAEP, and other colleges followed suit.

In 2001, a coalition of Democratic legislators introduced federal legislation to repeal the moratorium on federal financial aid to college students with drug convictions. In October 2001, SSDP’s role in this effort was highlighted in Rolling Stone magazine, which propelled the organization even further into a national movement. That proposed legislation resulted in a partial repeal of HEAAEP in 2006, and the federal government could no longer deny financial aid to those whose convictions occurred before they were enrolled as college students. However, HEAAEP still remains in place for those who are convicted of a drug charge while they are receiving federal financial aid. To this day, SSDP continues to lobby federal legislators to “ban the box” in higher education.

Although SSDP was founded upon political lobbying from the top down, it has also served as a platform for member-led initiatives of harm reduction and peer education. Peer education is an approach to health promotion in which community members are information resources for their peers. This model was adopted by SSDP in the form of Just Say Know (a rebranding of the infamous Just Say No campaign), which was developed by the Director of Drug Education, Dr. Vilmarie Fraguada Narloch, and former outreach coordinator, Frances Fu. The mission of the Just Say Know program is as follows:

Our SSDP Peer Education program seeks to empower students in our network to analyze the relationship between drug policy and drug use by providing evidence-based drug information, teaching students to recognize and address dangerous behaviors and unhealthy attitudes, and promoting prosocial and harm reduction oriented behaviors and attitudes.

 

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Dr. Narloch notes that, “the development of this program was in direct response to the needs of our members. They wanted more resources to educate themselves to be more well-rounded activists, and to be able to have open and honest conversations with their peers about harm reduction and drug use. I was fortunate that so many of our active members had ideas, feedback, and resources to share in order to make this program what it is. I fully believe in participatory development, and we benefit from having our members continue to engage and improve this program.”

The SSDP Just Say Know peer education training curriculum is organized into 13 lessons (plus two elective lessons), with themes ranging from complex and nuanced topics such as Stigma, Substance Use Disorders and Problematic Drug Use, and Recovery and Strategies for Change. The curriculum document outlines not only the content of the lessons, but various supporting elements such as documentaries, academic journal articles, and short videos. Each lesson includes open-ended reflection questions which encourage the soon-to-be peer educator to deeply consider the content and connect it to their existing knowledge. The 2nd edition of the curriculum provided updates to the program based on member feedback, needs, resource suggestions, and the 3rd edition is currently being developed.

Beyond the inherent value of the education, SSDP has incentivized completion of the Just Say Know program and other member activities through their Chapter Activity Tracker (CAT) system. Each lesson completed (counted once reflection questions have been submitted) is worth 15 (CAT) points, and completion of the entire program adds up to enough points to pay for an early-bird registration to the SSDP International Conference.

Once all of the mandatory lessons have been completed, the peer educator is certified and becomes eligible to present the content and substance specific Just Say Know harm reduction modules to groups of people, such as their chapter members, other peers, community members, or campus officials. The presenter is awarded 20 CAT points for each module that is presented, plus 5 more CAT points for each feedback form collected after the presentation. In other words, Just Say Know is not only a gold mine of information, but also for financial support to attend the SSDP conference.

Just Say Know is just one example of member-led initiatives adopted by SSDP and promoted throughout the drug policy reform and harm reduction communities. Alex Lehktman, another Psymposia journalist whose article about SSDP2019 appeared in Filter Mag, recognized an apparent theme in much of the conversation at the conference: as it stands, SSDP has not yet reached the vast majority of members of communities most impacted by the war on drugs. Although nonstudents have been eligible for membership of SSDP chapters for many years, this is largely unknown among chapter leaders, and in most cases, chapter activity is limited to campuses. This fact is now being actively addressed by SSDP, including reminding members that these activities have always been incentivized through the CAT since its inception, and we look forward to announcing more programming to address this need  in the near future. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.

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