Getting sick in a frat house bathroom after a night of drinking is a tale as old as time. While most professors look down upon the typical college party scene, one UT professor turns that condescension into a source of education for her students.
After noticing the popularity of her signature course, “Young People and Drugs,” Social Work professor Lori Holleran Steiker, was inspired to develop a way for her students to engage in the course material outside of the classroom. Thus UT’s Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors was born. It’s a student organization dedicated to raising awareness about substance abuse, addiction recognition and dependence prevention.
“I didn’t want to waste their passion, their commitment, their enthusiasm, their learning,” Holleran Steiker said. “So, I started poking around and I found something at Harvard and at Dartmouth called DAPA: Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors.”
Dr. Holleran Steiker said she noticed students quickly became activists against addiction after taking her course.
“Having had an entire semester of learning about the bio, psycho, social, spiritual model of substance use disorders, this group of people knows more than most doctors in the country about youth and substance use,” Holleran Steiker said.
Michael Campos, Neuroscience senior and current DAPA member, said he appreciates the way the information taught in the course has carried over to the activities and experiences within the organization.
“We have a lot of knowledge on how to deal with overdose or how to deal with signs of abuse and dependence,” Campos said.
Mathematics senior and DAPA president Katelyn Webster said she also recognizes the importance of what she learned in the course. After partaking in course related activities, such as observing Alcohol Anonymous meetings, Webster said she feels prepared to support former addicts and advocate addiction prevention.
“Part of being in DAPA is training,” Webster said. “It’s not a requirement, but that is a huge part of it. Getting people involved is really hard, because a lot of people aren’t educated on alcohol or drugs.”
DAPA has two main parts: volunteering with students from University High School, one of the few sober high schools in the U.S. designed to help students recover from addiction, and on-campus education.
“It’s already a lot going through high school,” Webster said. “But it’s even more going through with a substance abuse issue.”
In addition to their involvement with the high school, DAPA also has facilitated multiple seminars intended to educate college students on safe alcohol and drug consumption.
“As far as UT students go, our main goal is harm reduction,” Campos said. “A lot of groups will preach abstinence, and we know that’s not really realistic for college students.”
Webster said rather than preaching alcohol avoidance entirely, DAPA tries to facilitate healthy and regulated substance use. The club is currently trying to fund an on-campus safe drinking demonstration, which would promote and normalize healthy alcohol consumption by allowing students to legally and responsibly drink on campus.
“A lot of people, when they hear of our club, think, ‘they don’t want you drinking or doing drugs at all,’” Webster said. “But that’s not necessarily the case. It’s all about education.”
Dr. Holleran Steiker said these students have the potential to enact true and important changes with their involvement.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is that it’s a symbol that students are taking their learning to a step way beyond the classroom,” Holleran Steiker said. “Not just into their professions and their careers, but into their civic engagement and into making a difference as humans beings.”