University launches substance abuse prevention program SHIFT

Lauren Grobe

The Division of Student Affairs and the School of Undergraduate Studies launched SHIFT, a substance abuse prevention initiative, on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Dozens of students attended the kickoff for the program near the Perry-Castañeda Library, where organizers handed out T-shirts and frozen pops and discussed the goals of the program. According to the SHIFT website, the initiative is launching six pilot programs this semester which focus on changing the culture of substance use on campus.

SHIFT director Kate Lower said the initiative was formed not to simply discourage substance abuse but to educate students on safe practices. 

“(SHIFT) is not an acronym,” Lower said. “It’s a bold call to action.”

Lori Steiker, Steve Hicks professor of addiction, recovery and substance use services, is part of the executive leadership team for SHIFT. She said one of the pilot programs trains First-Year Interest Group and Transfer-Year Interest Group leaders in community building skills and how to address conversations about substance misuse.

Steiker said one of the other pilot programs is a proposal contest called SHIFTovation, where students, staff and faculty can propose ways to change the culture of substance abuse and apply for financial resources. Steiker said she wanted to be a part of SHIFT because it closely relates to her young adult substance misuse research.

“I have been frustrated over the years that we do a great job at orientation letting students know about the resources (and) catching students in crisis, but it’s hard to catch the students who are just having early warning signs,” Steiker said.

Lowerhhsaid substance abuse is largely considered a normalized part of the college experience, and SHIFT aims to change that.

“We often are expected to see misuse as the norm,” Lower said. “Yet, when we do see it, it’s like, ‘Well, that’s just part of college, that’s just the tradition.’”

Lower said SHIFT is not meant to be an abstinence program or emergency resource — SHIFT is meant to be a resource for students considering or experimenting with recreational substance use and encourages them to reflect on their decisions.

“We’re not looking at when there’s a problem or abstinence,” Lower said. “We’re really looking at this middle ground.”

The classroom pilot part of the program trains signature course professors on how to recognize risk factors of substance abuse and create closer relationships with students who may need guidance, Lower said.

“Students are here for the academics,” Lower said. “Faculty have a really huge strength in that area to really connect with students.”

Public health junior Miles Greenfield is a student advisory board member for SHIFT and works on outreach and student recruitment. Greenfield said he has seen the negative effects of substance abuse on people around him on campus, which encouraged him to join the program.

“I’ve seen the ways we can scale those kinds of things back, and in doing so, people end up happier, healthier,” Greenfield said. “We want to start shifting the culture today, and that starts with entering the awareness of everyone around us.”