Marshall Collegiate Recovery Community aims to educate, support students



PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS Marshall’s Collegiate Recovery Community will be housed in Gullickson Hall following renovations to the space.

The Marshall University Collegiate Recovery Community is making strides to provide for, educate and support students in all forms of recovery in a space on campus where they feel comfortable.

While collegiate recovery communities have been in existence for years, Amy Saunders, managing director of Marshall’s Center of Excellence for Recovery, said the university’s program has greatly expanded more recently.

“Collegiate recovery programs have been around for about 30 years, but they haven’t really taken off everywhere,” Saunders said. “Over the last few years, people have learned a lot more about them and how important they can be on college campuses.”

Saunders said the focus of the programs have undergone a shift throughout the years, as well.

“The programs used to focus more on alcohol and those kinds of issues, and it’s really grown nationally,” Saunders said. “It’s not just about substance use anymore. It’s focused on mental health, eating disorders, gambling, those other kinds of addictions that are important too and providing support to those students once they get in recovery. If they’re just starting recovery, or if they may need treatment, this is a helpful support group outside of that.”

The program’s funding, Saunders said, comes from a variety of grants, including state rewards and a large grant called Transforming Recovery.

Saunders said the funds have assisted in various of aspects of the program, including securing a peer recovery specialist for students, training and other outreach projects.

“One of the things we are also doing is trying to focus on how to address and create a support network for allies for people who are in recovery,” Leah Tolliver, director of wellness and gender programs at Marshall, said. “We want to create a community that is very educated about resources on campus and how to support those in recovery, as well as different ways in which we can get people seeking out services support.”

Saunders said having educated allies on campus can help reduce the false narratives about those with substance use disorder and other health problems.

“A lot of folks who have substance use disorder or mental health disorders face a lot of stigma,” Saunders said. “We still have to really try to get people to understand that these are chronic health issues, and the ally training will really help faculty and other staff and students start to understand some of that.”

Jeff Garrett, professor in counseling at Marshall, said college is a critical time to be in recovery and having a support system can play a significant role in a student’s success.

“A lot of time people who use drugs and alcohol start at a pretty early age, people begin to use and have these problems, and then by the time they get to college, it’s full blown. There are many people who probably wouldn’t identify as in recovery, but they do have mental health or substance use problems, and this is a critical time because college is a huge transition. For them to have support and a safe place to go where they can surround themselves with people that care about recovery or support, it’s really critical,” Garrett said. “I am in recovery myself. I have 16 years of sobriety, and one of the ways that’s happened is by having supportive friendships.”

Tolliver, Garrett and Hanna Karr, the program’s graduate assistant, have attended several training sessions in order to bring new information to campus.

In turn, this training can be passed through different parts of the Marshall community.

“We are working on partnership with all departments on campus,” Tolliver said. “It’s important to have programs like this on campus that will create an environment where students can be successful in their recovery as well as in their academic pursuit, because they’re both tied. If you don’t feel supported in your recovery then you don’t feel connected to the university, and that will affect how you are achieving academically as well as socially.”

Marshall also recently received a grant through a group dedicated to higher-education alliance in southern West Virginia, which will help continue to break down barriers between other universities and colleges.

“We will be working with other campuses to grow these services, Marshall kind of taking the lead,” Saunders said.

Tolliver said the next step for the community is to secure funds for renovations in Gullickson Hall, where the program will have an official physical location.

Hanna Pennington can be contacted at [email protected].