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Harm Reduction Committee adjusting to new leadership and making plans for new policy recommendations

SGA Vice President for Academic Affairs Saketan Anand is one of Harm Reduction Committee’s new co-leaders this semester. Photo by Emma Mills.

By David Gales

Less than a month out from the departure of former leader Jen Jacobsen ’95, Grinnell’s Harm Reduction Committee is adjusting to a change in its leadership and format.

Grinnell College’s Harm Reduction Committee is a group of students, staff and faculty that are dedicated to making recommendations for policies that ensure Grinnell is an environment that takes an actively harm reductive stance on issues of student safety.

Jacobsen, who had led the committee in her role as assistant dean of students and director of wellness and prevention, moved to a new position at Macalester College in mid-October. 

Now, Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President for Student Affairs Saketan Anand ’21 and Post-Bac for Sexual Respect and Harm Reduction Leah Johnson ’19 head up the committee as co-chairs. 

Jacobsen worked out a detailed plan for the semester with Johnson and Anand, but Anand is already looking to make changes. Anand is looking at his new role through the lens of previous experience as a College committee member. 

“What I struggle with is transparency in some of the committees,” he said, “the chair of the committee just goes away with that information and oftentimes you’re not really sure what happened with that discussion … it was always Jen taking the notes … I really couldn’t do much with the recommendations of the committee.”

With Johnson as his co-chair, though, the dynamic has shifted. 

“With Leah and I, it’s been fairly transparent. We’ve both been working as partners,” Anand said. Johnson has also found the dynamic to work well: “I can get really stuck in the cerebral ‘what do people think’ and he’s like ‘and what’s the action step of this?’” she said.

The duo’s action-focused ideology has already seen results. The committee piloted a 10-minute passing time at the end of Halloween Harris earlier this semester. 

“We are affording people the chance to stop, take a breath, find their friends, check in with people who are dancing with someone or considering going home with someone,” Johnson said. “I think given the opportunity to make those choices, most people will. Most people don’t want to panic and leave and figure it out on the very cold walk home.”

SGA All Campus Events Chair and Harm Reduction Committee member Amelia Zoernig ’21 was pleased with the rapid implementation of the committee’s recommendation. 

“I’m really a fan of when committee conversations translate to action, so I’m really happy about this passing period that was recommended and then instituted very quickly,” she said. “I would like to see more of that, more of these discussions that we have in the committee being translated into actual recommendations to the people who can get something done about them.”

One of the advantages that the committee has is the access they have to so many of the groups on campus that are involved in harm reduction. 

“One of the really valuable things about Harm Reduction Committee is that there are so, so many students on it,” Johnson said. “We have people from Residence Life, we have peer educators, we have ACESS [All Campus Events Student Safety], we have people from SGA, we have random students who show up … it’s a large group of students with a lot of different things they do on campus and really different investments in what harm reduction looks like.” 

Students aren’t the only people that sit on the committee, though. A similarly diverse blend of faculty and staff attend meetings as representatives or concerned community members, each with their own ideas and perspectives.

“I think it’s important and a little bit unusual for Grinnell to have student input into so many things, that there are students on so many committees,” said Professor Andrea Tracy ’99, psychology, who has sat on the committee for nearly a decade. 

“It’s really important on these committees that we have students that have a variety of perspectives, a variety of experiences.”

Johnson and Anand’s work is just beginning: Johnson has plans to tackle the complex issue of vaping on campus in a non-judgemental, action-oriented manner, and Anand wants to re-examine Grinnellian culture around substance-free residences and events.

Harm Reduction Committee meets every other Thursday, 12 to 1 p.m. in HSSC N1112. The committee is open to the public, and the next meeting will be on Dec. 12.

Correction: The date of the upcoming meeting originally published in this article was incorrect; the next meeting of the Grinnell College Harm Reduction Committee is on December 12.

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  • F

    FeaturesNov 21, 2019 at 11:04 pm

    The date of the upcoming meeting originally published in this article was incorrect; the next meeting of the Grinnell College Harm Reduction Committee is on December 12.

  • M

    MaxNov 21, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Can someone confirm that the next meeting is on Thanksgiving?

  • T

    TravisNov 16, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Is their next meeting really the 28th; Thanksgiving day? I would like to attend and provide insights on the vaping issue.