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New health initiatives at Beloit: Students on campus form new support groups in search of inclusivity and awareness

An uptick in health initiatives executed by students at Beloit College comes in the midst of an opioid crisis that has devastated communities across the United States. Extensive media covera

Reese Iafano’18, founder of Substance Abuse Recovery support group

ge of this issue has prompted further discussion about the nature of addiction and reframing abuse as a public health issue. Support groups who seek to accomplish similar goals have arisen on Beloit’s campus and offer a network of encouragement for students struggling with substance abuse and recovery.

Reese Iafano’18 is the founder of Beloit College’s Substance Abuse Recovery Support Group, which is held every Thursday night at 8 p.m. in the Spirituality Room in the basement of Pearsons. Sometime after his sophomore year, Iafano returned from a vacation term and says he looked for a network of support within the Beloit community for those recovering from substance abuse but came up empty-handed. “It was sad,” he said. Iafano took his concerns to the Health & Wellness Center, and an employee recommended he start a recovery group for substance abuse on campus. “So, I took the initiative,” Iafano said, “and ever since then I’ve been running the group.”  

    “Most of the people who come to the group do not want people to judge them,” Iafano said of the stigma surrounding addiction. The shame associated with substance abuse is often exacerbated by the intimate social and learning environment in which substance abuse is normalized and even encouraged. When asked about how a support group like this would benefit Beloit’s campus, Iafano said,“a lot of people’s definition of substance abuse is very narrow-minded and [we want to broaden] that definition.”

Responding to the struggle of college students in recovery who are constantly bombarded with opportunities to abuse substances, Iafano stated, “Having people look at their behavior in party spaces and towards their friends who have an addiction in [the hopes that people will] be more open-minded.” Iafano went on to say that substance abuse should “be a part of the inclusivity dialogue that Beloit has been going towards.”

Though Iafano has faced many setbacks in his attempts to erase the stigma and generate discourse about addiction on Beloit’s campus, he is most excited to discuss the community of students who attend meetings each week. “The group is amazing,” he said.

“Anyone who wants to step back from using substances, and also anyone who is in recovery or who isn’t in recovery” is welcomed to attend the meetings, said Iafano. He also wanted to dispel the myth that someone must be in recovery in order to attend a support group that promotes recovery. “I don’t want to limit people,” he said.

He’s adamant that this support group is not like Alcoholics Anonymous. “We just sit on the floor and color and eat food,” Iafano said. This structure of support extends past Thursday nights. “We hang out on the weekends, whenever people are down to do that, because weekends can be a tough time when most of the campus is using substances.”

Starting a campus-wide conversation about addiction can be a difficult feat, especially if attitudes surrounding addiction persist into Beloit’s administration. Iafano said that he does not believe that the college has done an adequate job in stimulating discourse about addiction. He also criticized Beloit’s party culture, and how it has responded to his attempts to spread awareness. “Half the time people are willing to listen, and the other half of the time it’s a lot of [dangerous] behavior that has been normalized.”

The Substance Abuse and Recovery Support Group has followed in the footsteps of preexisting identity-based support groups such as those for Asian-Americans and LGBTQ+ students. There are other support groups on campus targeting students who are in recovery or are suffering from an eating disorder, or who are survivors of sexual assault.

The notable escalation of awareness regarding public health issues may be in response to the current administration’s health care reform that leaves million uninsured or without adequate coverage. Many students who live on campus rely heavily on resources provided by the Health and Wellness Center, but with limited appointment slots and early closing hours, students with full schedules and jobs are often out of luck. Although many feel grateful for the eruption of student involvement in public health matters, one cannot overlook the need for funds and policy to be put towards health initiatives such as addiction, body image and sexual assault recovery by Beloit College. Hopefully, support groups started by students will catalyze a discourse that will destigmatize those in recovery and further incorporate them into a campus-wide discussion about inclusivity.

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