A new program at the University of Oregon is being carefully cultivated to meet the unique needs of its community.
Sometimes you just have to go where nature takes you. When Tiffany Brown, PhD, LMFT, left her native Oregon to complete a doctorate at Texas Tech, collegiate recovery wasn’t part of the plan. She had chosen Tech because she wanted to be part of a new clinical program in medical family therapy. “But then they assigned Tom Kimball (Director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery) as my doctoral adviser,” Brown laughed. “Once we started working together, everything changed. Being mentored by Tom and also by Kitty Harris (Director of Recovery Science Research) just gave me a real passion for collegiate recovery and a desire to make a contribution.”
Brown now serves as Lecturer for the Couples and Family Therapy Program and also Clinical Director of The Center for Family Therapy in the College of Education at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where she launched the school’s Collegiate Recovery Center a year ago. She began with five students and has since established three well-attended meetings on campus. But Brown has visions of much more. “I feel like we’re really ahead in some ways and taking baby steps in others, but it’s hard for me to be objective, having worked within the Texas Tech model for so long,” she explained. “I want to match that, but I know it will take a long time to build our program to that level.”
Year one, she said, was all about laying a foundation by working closely with university administrators and that small group of five students.
“We spent a lot of our time meeting with campus entities to help them understand who we are and how much potential we have so that we could start out with their backing and support,” explained Brown.
Given her background in marriage and family therapy, Brown sees some similarities between the struggles a family goes through in coping with addiction and those of a university: “In both cases, the first reaction is ‘I don’t want to believe we have a problem this big.’ The next objection from schools is often, ‘If we make this service available, won’t we have more students on our campus who are dealing with issues?’ Of course, the response from all of us in the recovery community is, ‘No, they’re already here.’ I’m extremely fortunate because our faculty and administrators recognize that excessive use is a problem in our community and our school, and they’ve been really supportive of what we’re trying to do.”
While making inroads with the university, Brown asked her group of five students to become ambassadors for the program. “We wanted to understand their experience and let them educate us about their needs,” she said. “Our initial plan was to have some really quick conversations with them and then start reaching out to the larger campus community. Instead, what happened is that we took things more slowly and spent a lot of time with that small group, deciding together what kind of recovery community we wanted to become and how we wanted students on our campus to access support.”
The students helped with outreach events, and the center soon began offering a seminar. This year they’re continuing those efforts while adding some service pieces. There are also plans for an outdoor program to capitalize on the natural beauty surrounding the university and to recruit students through hiking, biking, and rafting trips. Eugene is just an hour’s drive from the beach or the mountains, and rivers flow right through town. “There are ample opportunities to experience nature, which I think a lot of people in recovery really connect with,” Brown explained.
Soon Brown and her group will have that most coveted of all possessions—designated space— thanks to a new expansion of the Student Union. “We feel very grateful to our administration for providing that space and supporting our passion and our vision,” Brown said. “I can’t stress enough what a message it sends about their belief in our program and their commitment to our students.”
Among the core values of this evolving program is inclusion. The center intends to reach out to students of color, students of different cultural and gender identities, and students recovering from a range of addictions—from drugs and alcohol to eating disorders, gambling, sex addiction, self-harm, and more. In addition, Brown has been working closely with the local Al-Anon and plans to offer a home base to students involved with this support group.
“What I’ve learned through this process, and I say this very humbly, is that we know how to help students in recovery,” Brown said. “Yes, they have moments when they’re wrestling with their sobriety, but often they’re just wrestling with day-to-day student stuff. They need for us to give them a space—physical space and emotional space. They need a container. They need to feel heard, and they need to feel loved, and they need to feel appreciated.”
Five years from now, Brown hopes the program will be well known throughout Oregon. As a result, anyone who has a son or daughter in need of support will know that they can access a fantastic education, along with support from a passionately dedicated recovery community, at the University of Oregon. The new space now under construction will make it possible for the Collegiate Recovery Center to be available to students all the time.
Brown also would love to see 100 students in the program but tries to convince herself to set a more realistic goal of 50: “I want us to have a flourishing program, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of results. I want our students to be graduating with high GPAs. I want them to be building relationships in their communities. I want them to be leaders and to follow their dreams, whatever those may be.”
University of Oregon at a Glance
Campus Character: Flagship institution for the state of Oregon. A designated arboretum with more than 3,000 trees on campus. Limited parking by design to encourage students to walk, bike, or travel for free by bus. One hour from beaches and mountains; near the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers, with kayaking and rafting among the many popular outdoor activities in the area.
Number of Students: 24,591
Academic Offerings: 269 academic programs. One of only 61 schools in North America to be a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. Graduate and PhD programs; law school; high-ranking business and education programs.
Points of Interest: University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the premier natural and cultural history museum in the state of Oregon. The Duck Store, a landmark that opened in 1920 and offers everything a Duck fan needs to be a super fan.
General Campus Contact Info: University of Oregon, 1585 E. 13th Avenue, Eugene, OR, 97403; 541-346-1000; uoregon.edu.
Collegiate Recovery Center Info: Recovery meetings held at Lokey Ed. Building 176 and Erb Memorial Union; recovery.uoregon.edu; email email@example.com; Program Director Tiffany Brown, 541-346-2117, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography courtesy of the University of Oregon