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Recovery communities are thriving at more college campuses

April 21, 2010
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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An April conference is held as part of an effort to replicate a Texas Tech model

About 60 educators and researchers this month attended a three-day conference at Texas Tech University to discuss how to promote the establishment and growth of recovery communities on college campuses. The number of attendees in this case was less important than the momentum being seen in the recovery movement at colleges and universities nationwide, including on the half dozen campuses that have replicated a model established at Texas Tech in the mid-1980s.

Kitty Harris-Wilkes, director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech, says the federal government in 2005 began to give funding support to the university for efforts to disseminate its Collegiate Recovery Community model. Texas Tech offers a variety of recovery support services to about 70 to 80 of its students each semester; there is no requirement as to the type of treatment a recovering student must have received before entering the program, or even that a student received formal treatment at all.

While many colleges across the country have regular 12-Step meetings somewhere on campus, Harris-Wilkes’ center sees that as a good starting point but not a full recovery support program. She says that two critical elements to a successful campus program are a designated space on campus that helps nurture a community of recovering students, and an integration of support staff (mentors, recovery coaches) with students.

“Colleges need to make available a designated space, so that students in recovery don’t feel shunned, so that they’re told, ‘We value your presence here,’” Harris-Wilkes says.

In Texas Tech’s case, that space remarkably took the form of a 17,000-square-foot building that houses both the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery and a basement area with space for pool tables, a study area, a TV room and a meditation room. Harris-Wilkes adds that while some schools think about a space for students in terms of recovery housing, she does not consider a housing component to be a necessity for a campus’s plan.

Schools that have adopted Texas Tech’s Collegiate Recovery Community model include the University of Texas at Austin, Vanderbilt University, Georgia Southern University and Kennesaw State University, Harris-Wilkes says.

Limited resources at universities do continue to pose an obstacle toward wider adoption of recovery community models on campus, Harris-Wilkes says. Stigma against recovering addicts also creates barriers, although she says many students have become increasingly willing to be part of an open recovering community on campus.

Conservative estimates have pegged the recovering population on college campuses across the country at 50,000. “Recovery is becoming an accepted part of the campus community,” Harris-Wilkes says.