I entered college after some monumental life experiences changed the molding of my identity.
Between the time I lived in addiction and now, I have gone from identifying as a homeless, dumpster-diving, non-hygienic man to a person who is asked to teach Sunday school, sponsor a child in Africa, co-parent, and attend events as a motivational speaker. Now that I am in recovery, I hold high academic honors and am on the Dean’s List with a 3.6 GPA. I have received a plethora of scholarships and founded The Message LLC, a motivational speaking company.
My success in recovery is only possible because of the support that was available to me through the support of many people, some of whom I met at Delaware County Community College. As a 37-year-old student in recovery, I see a need for more funding of health programs at all schools, but especially at the college level, where there are many students like me, who are getting their educations back on track after experiencing addiction.
I want all recovering students to experience the same opportunities to succeed.
I believe that all colleges should offer on-campus recovery programs that provide funding, peer specialists in recovery, education on resources, and addiction therapists on site. Many four-year universities offer this type of support; however, they are poorly funded. For example, West Chester University offers a Collegiate Recovery program. The sole purpose of the organization is to help students who have substance use disorder or are in recovery from other conditions like mental/eating disorders. West Chester University is one of many colleges nationwide that are being progressive in this new movement paired with the Association of Recovery in Higher Education.
Colleges are especially in need of this type of programming because when I am on campus, I regularly see students taking flyers of self-help group numbers from the public announcements board. That should not be shocking because according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Advancing Addiction Science), both amphetamine use and alcohol abuse in the form of binge drinking were all greater percent points higher than noncollege students. Not to mention, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) concludes that 25% of students have a diagnosed mental health condition or approximately 5 million individuals. A 2014 study from Dr. Alexandre Laudet and others demonstrated that students active in CRP have higher rates of retention, graduation, and grade point average than the average student.
It is time for Colleges to realize health is wealth. Let us change the culture of these institutions of graduating quality, not quantity. America is currently in a student loan debt crisis of epic proportions. The funds to provide students with these needs are there but need to be reallocated to the right services. Funding for a pizza party of five students in recovery may seem minimal but that party may save a person in recovery life.
Colleges should build the program on the standard that we want every student in recovery to get the most out of their education.
I had the blessing of traveling to five cities last semester, speaking to students in recovery and conferencing. Through all that travel, I realized our colleges must wake up and begin to address the needs of the new students we educate. I recognize to have the correct culture that must also start with human resources. Through the hiring process, I believe it is critical to look past the resume and ask potential candidates their thoughts on students with substance use disorder/mental health illness. Since we are in the worst epidemic this country has ever seen, doesn’t that require drastic measures? I want all teachers and students to be equipped with the best possible situations, so we are graduating healthy candidates for employment. Let us not operate on the methodology until the unaffected are affected. Every student who is affected by mental health or substance use disorder changes the foundation of the college. By funding the collegiate recovery programs immensely, the college will bear fruit that will last a lifetime.
Students in recovery are untapped resources that have gifts that can change the world. George W. Bush, William S. Halsted, and Buzz Aldrin all are outspoken addicts/alcoholics who are currently in sobriety.
As W.E.B. Du Bois once said, “Education must not simply teach work; it must teach life.”
I hope that one day soon, students will not have to fight for addiction and recovery services, but that they will be as common as finding the bookstore. No student should be forgotten.