Austin leads the way as the University of Texas System unanimously votes to extend collegiate recovery to all UT academic institutions.
Maybe it’s a cliché to say “everything’s bigger in Texas,” but sometimes it’s true. In a groundbreaking move, The University of Texas System recently became the first in the country to offer a system-wide expansion of collegiate recovery.
The flagship campus in Austin will anchor this exciting statewide effort, which will include nine universities throughout Texas.
“We are blessed to have champions of our program, not only in the President’s Office, but also on the Board of Regents,” explains Ivana Grahovac, MSW, director of The Center for Students in Recovery (CSR) at UT Austin. “They brought the chancellor of the UT System to meet with our students, who shared their recovery stories. We’ve been able to communicate the miracle of collegiate recovery to our administration, and they asked us to come up with a proposal for carrying this message to the other schools in the system. The members of our Board of Regents want recovery to flourish on every campus. We’ve been able to create a lot of excitement and unity among supporters throughout Texas who understand that the time to support recovery at a college level has come.”
The new collegiate recovery programs will roll out in stages, three or four schools at a time. First up are the campuses at Tyler, San Antonio, Dallas, and Arlington. Tyler already has a CSR up and running, with students participating and special events in the works. At the San Antonio campus, student workers are coordinating meetings as the UTSA Center for Collegiate Recovery prepares to hire a director. Dallas is also preparing to hire a director and has received funding from the university’s Student Fee Committee—again, because students from UT Austin shared their stories with the committee, which then approved financial support. And UT Arlington? “Oh my gosh!” Grahovac says. “They are on fire! It’s so exciting to see all the students in recovery who have been drawn to their program as it’s starting.”
“From day one, UT Arlington and the greater Arlington community have rolled out the red carpet for recovery,” says DeDe Chamberlin, LMSW. “I became the new program coordinator in early October 2013, and with the help of my graduate intern, Joey Usher, we have connected with over 50 local community partners, implemented two separate campus-based recovery meetings, and established a student organization through our Center for Students in Recovery. We have been so fortunate to connect with key leaders and valuable partners throughout the city, all of whom have personally and professionally committed their support.”
All nine schools in the system are applying for grants from Transforming Youth Recovery. “The foundation provided not only critical financial support but also the analysis and collaborative technical support that we really need to succeed and to be able to grow as quickly as our students need us to grow,” says Grahovac. “It has absolutely elevated our ability to succeed with this expansion.”
While the Austin campus was tapped to assist its sister schools, the learning curve bends in both directions, with all these universities learning from each other, Grahovac says. “In the spirit of recovery, we know we need to pass along what we are doing in order for us to continue to thrive in this beautiful way. So we are working with these campuses and their leaders. We don’t pretend to know what they should do on their campuses. Instead, we share our experiences, and they take that and run with it.”
UT Austin’s CSR was launched in 2004 by Grahovac’s predecessor, Laura Jones-Swann, LCDC, who is now a lecturer in the School of Social Work. Starting the program was no small task, given the size of the university: a 350-acre main campus with 24,000 faculty members and more than 50,000 students. It took a year-and-a-half to jump through all the administrative hoops you would expect in an institution that size.
Jones-Swann’s first order of business was to establish an advisory committee after researching Austin and finding out who in the community was passionate about recovery. Then she helped organize a few fundraisers—nothing major. “I took the approach that no gift was too small, not even one dollar,” she remembers. A colleague in the Development Office guided her to a website that posts foundations and corporations looking for worthy causes to support. Foundation support proved much easier to acquire than large federal grants, which tend to come wrapped in a tangle of red tape.
The university provided meeting space, and the School of Social Work was on board to help. Once the CSR raised $50,000 to pay the salary of someone to run the program, it was open for business.
Thanks to the generosity of donors, the support of the entire Austin community, and the hard work of students in recovery, UT Austin today has what Grahovac describes as a “dynamic recovery community embedded in a boisterous and thriving, creative city.” She says that students in recovery range from 18-year-olds fresh out of recovery high schools to “non-traditional students in recovery who have dreamed of returning to UT to pursue graduate degrees that their active disease had prevented them from achieving in the past.”
Right now, the CSR serves about 150-200 students per semester. In January 2014, the center moved into a brand new, 3,000-square-foot space inside the football stadium. Its far-reaching programs include 12-Step meetings for a wide range of addictive disorders, meditation and other sessions with a spiritual focus, and group recreational and social activities. Currently, the CSR doesn’t offer a sober residence, but the staff can help students connect with local sober homes and often helps match them with roommates in recovery. Students can also find academic assistance and career planning at the CSR. Just recently, the school’s Counseling and Mental Health Center collaborated with The Center for Recovering Families/Austin Recovery (CRF). CRF will offer a dual-diagnosis intensive outpatient program at the Counseling Mental Health Center so that UT Austin students no longer have to leave campus to receive treatment.
Only students applying for CSR scholarships must meet any sobriety or attendance requirements. “We embrace students wherever they are in their recovery,” Grahovac says. “We are always conscious of the students who may drift into our community as a result of parental pressure or other factors, and they might be very closed off. But they are so welcome at our center. We see our students in concentric circles. In the core circle are students who have embraced sobriety, who love being on campus and having an experience with recovery at the same time. They reach out to that outer circle of students who have one foot in and one foot out, who aren’t yet committed. Through our programs and a list-serve that we use to communicate with students, we’re always trying to send out this gentle, inviting message that no matter where your busy life is taking you, you can stay connected to us. And when you can finally come to a meeting, we’re going to embrace you with open arms.”
A Director’s Journey
On February 15, I celebrated nine years clean and sober. It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever received. Each year, as I surrender more to this transforming journey of recovery, the growth that I experience brings me so much closer to what was going on inside of me when I was suffering so deeply as a college student back in Detroit. I was going in and out of treatment centers. My eating disorder was ravaging me. My drug addiction was ravaging me. What the disease was doing to my family was ravaging all of us.
I remember that sense of absolute isolation on a large college campus. I felt so distant from my peers in class. Given my academic record and my repeated withdrawals from school to enter treatment, I was convinced that I was creating a transcript that would follow me around for the rest of my life. I felt defined by addiction.
The only reason I graduated is that my mom came and sat next to me in my last class so that I wouldn’t get up and flee. But even after I graduated, I felt like I had destroyed my chances of a happy, fulfilled, successful future. I ended up living on the streets of Detroit in winter, giving up on myself and my family and my life.
Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to get help one more time. Thanks to that last chance, and the unwavering support of my family, I was able to have that moment where my tiny bit of willingness to seek recovery was stronger than the magnetic pull toward addiction, which is impossible to describe to someone who has never experienced it.
This recovery work that I do has brought me so much closer to the acute pain I once felt. It guides my work because I am able to tap into my former self. I can see this campus through her eyes. I’m always trying to use that memory to speak to students who are actively suffering so that we can pull them in and let them know that there are solutions, that there is hope. It takes a series of miracles to get a student clean and sober at this age. I have to give away every single blessing that I get, and I’m grateful that we get to do that here at this incredible university.
—Ivana Grahovac, Director CSR, UT Austin
As Recovery Campus went to press, we were thrilled to learn that Ivana Grahovac has accepted the newly created role of executive director of Transforming Youth Recovery (TYR). Watch for more news about her position and TYR in the next issue.