Southern Oregon University
At Southern Oregon, CORE takes on a new meaning.
When asked to describe the collegiate recovery community (CRC) at Southern Oregon University (SOU) in one word, Victor Chang, program coordinator of CORE (Community of Recovery in Education) confidently says, “Inclusive.”
CORE was founded in 2010 by Taylor Burke, a student affairs professional focused on student retention. Continually hearing about students struggling to return to school due to difficulty balancing academics and their recoveries, Burke concluded that SOU needed a means of support for this niche of students.
With collaborative efforts from Burke, SOU staff, administrators, the student fee committee, and helpful mentoring from the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) members, a collegiate recovery program (CRP) kicked off with the goal of helping students get and stay sober while pursuing a college degree. With additional help and financial support from the Stacy Mathewson Foundation, Transforming Youth Recovery, and ongoing information and resources from ARHE involvement, CORE has been able to help recovering students accomplish their academic goals while simultaneously strengthening their recoveries.
The CORE staff consists of Program Coordinator Victor Chang (who is also SOU’s Director of Counseling) and Carolyn Verner, a mental health/alcohol & drug counselor. Together, they provide a means of support for recovering students in a very strategic way. Clinical support is provided through individual counseling as needed either on- or off-campus. CORE also provides non-clinical support from its program coordinator, who is also in long-term recovery. “Because mutual support is so important in students’ busy lives,” CORE runs two weekly meetings—one staff-facilitated and the other peer-facilitated, in addition to three on-campus, 12-step groups.
Weekly themes emerge in staff-facilitated meetings such as dealing with using friends, stress management, dealing with family, and seeking forgiveness. While staff-facilitated meetings are open only to members of CORE, peer-facilitated meetings are open to members as well as anyone interested in recovery. Being loosely 12-step based and largely discussion-based, peer-facilitated meetings may run for up to two hours or longer. These meetings take place in a dedicated CORE space located in Room 106 of Susanne Homes, a former residence hall on campus. This space not only serves as a meeting space, but also as a resource space for CORE members to come and hang out between classes to listen to the collection of vintage vinyl, or study among friends. Having a physical home for CORE gives recovering students a sense of welcome, security, and permanence on campus.
CORE currently consists of 12 members, who represent students in various walks of life due to age and also time in recovery. There is a unique place for every student involved in the collegiate recovery community, with each student contributing to the community in his or her own unique and creative way. The various paths of study, like digital media and outdoor adventure leadership, taken by students in CORE contribute to many activities the students take on as a recovery community and also contribute to activities to bring awareness of addiction on campus.
Membership in CORE is varied; there is no typical student, which makes its community very inclusive for individuals in recovery. Sometimes it may seem as though all that links them together is their experience with addiction. However, CORE leadership plans several social events to help students build relationships with each other despite their varied ages and interests. Some social events are hikes, trips to a trampoline park, and informal get-togethers. There are also several planned events for students that encourage students to build relationships with each other and also network with people in recovery in other states. Some of these events include road trips to Young People in AA conferences and other regional CRCs, sober spring break trips, skiing on Mt. Ashland, and attending ARHE in Reno en masse. According to Chang, “the ARHE conference is an awesome and unique platform to meet other recovering students, hear about their experiences, and learn about how different schools have structured their collegiate recovery programs.” After attending this conference, students return to Southern Oregon on fire for recovery and with their eyes open to an endless amount of possibilities for themselves and CORE.
One of the commitments of students in CORE is not only to promote recovery in their own lives and the lives of fellow members, but also to promote recovery on campus. “CORE’s mission includes an educational and outreach component whereby students can reveal their identity as recovering persons and promote recovery, help-seeking, and raise the campus discourse on recovery from addiction.” CORE students have hosted two film screenings, Pleasure Unwoven and The Anonymous People, followed by a facilitated discussion after each screening. These screenings contribute to campus awareness by offering a perspective on addiction to students who have not had any personal experience with addiction. In order to be “More word of mouth and promotion, as well as attraction,” CORE students also raise campus awareness through social media and flyers. CORE has its own Facebook page, posters, and meeting flyers to keep students on campus aware of events being held by CORE members. A CORE barbecue also takes place annually on campus. The barbecue is held in Southern Oregon’s student union courtyard, a well-trafficked area on campus, and features a live band. Attendees consist of CORE members and staff, interested students, staff, and faculty. Campus awareness ultimately supports the students of CORE because increasing student education on addiction allows other students on campus to offer support through understanding. Awareness of a collegiate recovery community on campus also informs students on campus that should issues with addiction ever arise in their own lives, they have an inclusive community available to them.
In order to become a member of CORE, students must complete an online application and have a one-on-one interview with the program coordinator. The purpose of the interview is to confirm that students are on the same page with CORE about their goals, expectations, and needs. There is no longer a sobriety time requirement to join, which is a unique component to CORE’s program requirements. After a student claimed he didn’t think he could put three months to six months of sobriety time together without CORE, the leadership agreed that this was a significant barrier to students early in their recovery.
One of the main requirements for membership is that every member must actively work a program of recovery. Each member is free to choose which program works best for him or her, whether it is a 12-step or non-12-step program, psychotherapy/counseling, medication management, religious/spiritual endeavors, or outpatient treatment.
CORE has been able to successfully support students in local outpatient treatment and students going through addiction counseling on campus. Students also represent several 12-step fellowships including Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gambling Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous. Having very general requirements allows CORE to obtain a variety of members and be the all-inclusive collegiate recovery community that it wants to be. There is a place for every recovering student in the inclusive community of CORE.
Southern Oregon University at a Glance
Campus Character: SOU was founded in 1926 as a public liberal arts college, in the center of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. SOU ranked as one of the top 50 of the most environmentally conscious campuses in Sierra magazine.
Number of Students: 5,444
Academic Offerings: Offers 36 majors and 100 professional programs. 16 graduate programs. SOU presents students with an opportunity to pursue a three-year, fully accredited bachelor’s degree to save a year of expenses.
Points of Interest: Ashland ranks in the 2015 Top 100 Best Places to Live. The outdoor enthusiast would thrive biking in the forested trails above the Southern Oregon campus, surfing along the Oregon coast, and snowshoeing at Crater Lake. Ashland also hosts the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival and is home to 48 historical buildings listed on National Register of Historic Places.
General Campus Contact Info: Student Health and Wellness Center, 1250 Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland, OR 97520, Program Coordinator: Victor Chang. MA LPC, 541-552-6813, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.sou.edu/core