What’s happening at the University of Colorado in Boulder is just one more exclamation point to a trend that is taking college campuses by storm.
The Sober Lounge located at the University of Colorado’s Collegiate Recovery Center (CUCRC) opened in the fall of 2013, and already it is welcoming 50–60 students on a regular basis.
“We hit the ground running and it has been fantastic,” says Daniel Conroy, founder and director of the CUCRC. “It has been a real testament to recovery and to the sober community on the CU-Boulder campus. Our students now have a home, and they have a place to be.”
Helping with the strong start was the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University, which Conroy turned to for guidance and inspiration before planning his own program. Also, CU’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness Don Misch, MD, championed the program. The Texas Tech model, along with strong administrative support, enabled Conroy to offer students that all-important gathering space early in the game. Echoing what so many other CRC directors across the country are saying, Assistant Director Sam Randall believes that a primary reason for the Colorado program’s early success is “absolutely having a place where the students can actually meet and better connect with each other.”
In planning the ideal gathering space, CU applied a time-honored rule of retail: location, location, location. The Sober Lounge is situated right in the middle of the CU-Boulder campus in the University Memorial Center, which also houses the campus bookstore, eateries, and more. Most students come by this building just about every day. “It’s where everybody hangs out,” Conroy says.
Conroy and his wife, Mae Martin, also own a furniture store and design studio in Boulder. Their expertise in design came in handy when they began planning the CRC, and their generosity made a huge difference. The couple used their own design team, as well as furniture from their store, to maximize the CRC’s space. The one-room Sober Lounge has modern furniture and soft lighting—no overhead fluorescents—and the furniture is arranged to allow small groups to sit comfortably, encouraging students to visit and study together.
It didn’t hurt that Randall (aka “CRC Cruise Director”) is trained as an architect and splits her time between practicing design and working at the CRC Monday through Thursday. She came to this role after teaching in the architecture program at The University of Texas at Austin for a number of years. ”What I loved most of all about teaching was the relationship I had with my students and the opportunity to help them find their way,” Randall says. When she moved to Boulder, she worked with Conroy in another young adult mentoring program before they began collaborating on the new CRC.
Once students get to the Sober Lounge, Randall explains, the atmosphere and shared sense of purpose begin engaging them in something much bigger and more meaningful than they anticipated. “It’s just amazing how, once you create a space that feels good to be in, it in turn creates opportunities for good connections to happen,” she says. “As a designer, I absolutely believe this is why the space matters.”
Conroy and Randall work together with the students to organize group activities, from enjoying game nights to watching sports on the big screen TV to taking yoga classes. The Sober Lounge also just happens to be right next to the campus bowling alley, which is put to good use by the CRC students. “I never in a million years would’ve guessed that 20-30 students would turn up every week to go bowling together, but they do,” says Conroy.
The center also offers a great place to study on campus, along with volunteer tutors and other academic support. Conroy and Randall provide informal recovery coaching for the students since they both are in recovery, as well, and can share their own experiences in addiction, recovery, and relapse prevention. They’re available to talk with students when they need a sounding board and can direct them to the appropriate counselor or other professional support when needed.
At the heart of the CUCRC, Randall says, are the center’s approximately 14 volunteer student hosts, who are in long-term recovery or sobriety themselves. These hosts help plan activities, connect with newcomers, and keep the center open and available to others even when Conroy and Randall can’t be there.
Randall finds it “powerful to see” that not only is the Sober Lounge a magnet for students and other local young people already committed to recovery, but it’s attracting students just beginning to seek help. The lounge has also become a home for those who choose sobriety or abstinence as a lifestyle. They have been able to support CU students with a variety of needs and have already seen many success stories.
Looking to the future, students have expressed a lot of interest in having a sober dorm or a residential component to the program, so Conroy and the CUCRC Steering Team are investigating that possibility. Right now, they’re focused on fundraising, with plans to build an endowment for the center. They are also looking ahead to future expansion.
As the program expands, it will maintain the same mindset that guided the Sober Lounge, with a focus on creating opportunities for community connection. “I think it’s really important for people who start CRCs to know that location matters in that respect,” says Conroy. “Also, it’s very important to have a champion. You need somebody who says, ‘I get this, and we’re going to make it happen.’ ”
University of Colorado at a Glance
Location: Boulder, CO
Campus Character: Flagship university for the State of Colorado; opened in 1877; largest of the University of Colorado’s four-campus system. Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains at an altitude of 5,400 feet. Averages about 340 sunny or partly sunny days each year. Home to five Nobel laureates and four National Medal of Science winners.
Number of Students: 30,000+
Academic Offerings: Approximately 3,600 courses in 150 fields of study, including arts and sciences, business, education, engineering, environmental design, journalism, law, and music. Has 78 degree programs at the bachelor’s level, 56 at the master’s level, and 53 at the doctoral level. One of only 34 U.S. public institutions selected for the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU).
Points of Interest: Main campus covers 600 acres and includes about 200 buildings constructed of rough-cut Colorado sandstone with red-tile roofs. Tuscan vernacular architectural style evolved from a master plan developed by Philadelphia architect Charles Klauder in 1919. The Norlin Quadrangle is listed in the State and National Register of Historic Places. Home to the CU Museum of Natural History, considered one of the top comprehensive university museums of natural history in the country.
General Campus Contact Info: University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309; (303) 492-6301, colorado.edu
Collegiate Recovery Center Info: Located in the University Memorial Center, Room 102; 207 UCB, 1669 Euclid Avenue, Boulder, CO 80309; (303) 492-9642; CUCRC@colorado.edu; colorado.edu/recoverycenter/; CRC Director Daniel Conroy, Daniel.Conroy@colorado.edu. CRC Assistant Director Samantha Randall, Samantha.Randall@colorado.edu