A group of 11 Health Studies students from UEL were given a powerful insight into the drugs problem in the United States during a recent study trip to Buffalo, New York.
During the trip, the UEL students had the chance to collaborate with students based at D’Youville College in Buffalo and also met New York Senators, Councilmen and leaders of the Native American Seneca Nation of Indians in Salamanca.
The Seneca are closely involved in drug policy because of the current heroin epidemic on the reservations and throughout the state of New York.
The trip was led by the Dr Jennifer Randall, leader of the Health Promotion module at UEL, who said, “Visiting the Seneca Nation was one of the most powerful things I have ever been a part of. There were about 40 people and we all sat in a circle.
“There were 14 people from UEL, Mike Snyder, the head of a youth organisation on the Seneca Nation, the President of the Seneca Tribal Council, addiction councillors and three representatives from the US government, including Robert Ortt, the New York State Republican Senator who is on the Drug Task Force.”
“Mike Snyder was saying that this is not about the drugs. He talked about historical trauma, loss of identity and lack of apology or acceptance from colonial power.
“For our students who are from Nigeria, Latvia and Iran, it was remarkable because they connected with that story in a very powerful way. Some were sobbing.”
The purpose of the trip was enable to the UEL students to practise what they have learned in a different context and to discuss drugs policy with a range of audiences.
Dr Randall explained, “The message that we were bringing is very challenging to what many people think about drugs and drug policy.
“We think there are different models that are more focused on harm reduction that we think are more humane.”
Before leaving for the US, the students identified four main themes that they wished to explore – drug policy; structure and agency; challenging perceptions (exploring issues around gender and sexuality); and systems of control (looking at mass incarceration and the role of prisons in society).
On their arrival, they delivered workshops with young people in Buffalo and developed activities and discussions.
The nine-day trip coincided with a Global Day of Action in support of the international campaign: Support Don’t Punish.
It was the fourth such day in which activists have been demanding changes in the way society deals with drug addiction. They argue that the epidemic will not be solved by arresting people but instead by providing compassion and support.
Dr Randall hopes that the trip will be the beginning of long-term collaborations.
“In the future we’d like to nurture these relationships to build a sustainable exchange between the Native American community and US college students, and our students. I think it would be very powerful for the Seneca to be able to tell their story to a global community.”