Each year, a number of student organizations apply for recognition from the Student Government Association. For groups like as Your Magazine, which was newly recognized last year, the process occurs quickly and leaves little to debate.
However, Emerson Reform, formally known as Students for Sensible Drug Policy, has spent more time on the road to recognition.
The grassroots student organization, founded in 2009, has been reforming its name and mission statement since its application for recognition was denied in the fall of 2010. After being rejected, Emerson Reform took the 2011-2012 academic year to change its name and policies and plan to apply for recognition again this fall.
Marilyn Willmoth, a junior political communication major and president of Emerson Reform, said the group is a place for students to speak freely and educate themselves about drug use. According to Willmoth, the organization does not officially condone drug use. Rather, it seeks to reform the drug laws on campus and provide students with a full spectrum of information and perspectives regarding marijuana and other narcotics.
Wilmoth said she believes SSDP’s denial of recognition stems from two things: the group’s former affiliation with the nationwide SSDP movement and a stigma surrounding the group’s focus on drugs.
According to her, on-campus groups connected with national organizations are not allowed to receive recognition from SGA.
SGA President Tau Zaman said that, while SGA will recognize groups connected with national organizations, they must abide by the policies of the college rather than the national branch. Zaman said the mission of the organization was not the reason SSPD was denied its request for official acknowledgement.
“Their policies have to follow Emerson’s policies and guidelines,” said Zaman, a senior political communication major. “A stigma regarding drug use had absolutely nothing to do with the decision. It really has nothing to do with that.”
Zaman said it is against SGA policy to disclose the reasoning behind a groups rejection.
Willmoth, who joined Emerson Reform in 2010 — which at that time was, still known by it’s former name — said she sees the group’s path to recognition as a chance to rally around a political discussion, not an excuse to get high on campus.
“We have every right to advocate for a political position,” said Willmoth. “I’m using what I learn in school in this group. I think Emerson should support me and this group in advocating for whatever political position we choose to advocate for. We’re not telling anyone to go out there and do drugs.”
Wilmoth said that for the members of the organization, the group provides an open space to discuss substance use and how drugs tie into larger concepts such as the prison-industrial complex and cartel violence in Mexico.
“Drug criminalization has a big impact on other countries,” said senior Ana Karina, a member of Emerson Reform. “I’m very passionate about that. Everything we do here impacts other people.”
This year, Emerson Reform volunteered at the Boston Freedom Rally, where members helped register voters for the upcoming presidential election and the medical marijuana vote, as well as recruiting more students to join Emerson Reform.
“We’re prepared to protest,” said Willmoth. “We’re prepared to make signs and get Emerson students [and] our allies at other schools and protest at accepted students day at Emerson. We have to make some kind of stand.”