A (Blue) Grass Movement

The University of Kentucky looks to students for input as it launches a collegiate recovery community and Living Learning Program back-to-back.

Prevention Coordinator Kelsey Otten first heard about collegiate recovery communities (CRCs) in 2015 as a graduate student in the Office of Wellness Initiatives for Student Empowerment. Excited by the idea, she approached her director and was pleased to discover that a proposal was already underway for a recovery Living Learning Program scheduled to launch in fall 2017.

“This made the idea for a CRC even more exciting,” Otten says. “It would be a great way to start a recovery initiative and would complement the Living Learning Program when it was launched.”

Buoyed by the mission, Otten hit the road to visit CRCs at other universities, including Texas Tech, Vanderbilt and Ohio State, and began collaborating with a student in recovery she met through a community coalition.

“We started posting recovery meetings in June 2016 and made them open to all young people — even if they were not students,” she says. “It snowballed from there.”

Otten furthered the message by creating social media pages and marketing materials for the CRC and placing posters around campus to educate students about this new resource. Meanwhile, the student she was working with talked to his peers.

“This really was a grassroots effort,” Otten says.

Today, the CRC, which is housed within Campus Recreation and Wellness, has about five undergraduate and graduate students who remain consistently in contact and continue to spread the word. It partners with the admissions and enrollment management office to disseminate materials to incoming students. It also works closely with a network of wellness-related departments on campus, such as the University Health Services’ Prevention and Behavioral Health departments, Counseling Center, Student Financial Wellness Center, Violence Intervention Prevention Center, and Disability Research Center.

“People hear about us in a variety of ways,” Otten says. “For example, last year, when an article on the CRC was published, some professors who are in recovery reached out to us. By doing more education and outreach about recovery, we take huge steps in eliminating the stigma. As we put faces on what recovery actually looks like, we’ll make a lot more progress.”

To become a member of the CRC, an individual must fill out an application; be a student attending the University of Kentucky, Bluegrass Community and Technical College or Transylvania University; have at least six months of sobriety; be actively participating in a 12-step recovery program or an equivalent recovery program; attend weekly recovery meetings; and actively engage in CRC events. Newcomers are welcome to attend recovery meetings and participate in CRC events and activities as long as they are sober and serious about recovery.

Forging Connections

Students in recovery face many challenges when they arrive on campus, and Otten hopes that the presence of a CRC can help reduce their anxiety.

“Substance use is often normalized on college campuses,” she says. “Incoming students might have entered recovery before going to college or are trying to return to college after seeking treatment and are nervous about coming back to the same environment they left. It can be very overwhelming. Students already have a lot of stress without the additional concern that comes with maintaining recovery, keeping up grades and the social pressures.

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