UT’s Drug-Free Schools Act review recommends formation of committee to evaluate substance use

Lauren Girgis

The 2018 Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act review recently recommended that UT form a committee to develop goals on how to assess alcohol and drug use on campus.

This year’s review, which was sent last week in a campuswide email, encouraged the University to form a group that would create a strategic plan to support the health, safety and success of its students. The review recommended that the committee focus on alcohol and drug-related activity within the campus community.

The biennial review is federally required to be completed and administered annually, said Edna Domínguez, assistant vice president for strategic initiatives in the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs. The review evaluates what educational and preventative programs the University has in place, policies and enforcement procedures, sanctions taken and recommendations for the future. 

“The recommendation to the committee (is made) when we take the inventory of these programs across the University (and) make sure that we’re also gathering how we know they’re successful or not because … the goal for assessment is continuous improvement,” Domínguez said. “So, are we building on that?”

Dominguez said members have not been finalized yet, and the committee should be formed by January 2020. She said once the members have been selected, they will decide the committee’s future plans.

The review recommended that the committee consist of members from various organizations, including University Health Services, the Counseling and Mental Health Center and Student Government. 

“We do want to include student voices, so I’m going to be reaching out to Student Government for that,” Domínguez said. “There will be some academic programs as well because we do have programs across campus and academic departments.”

The members of the committee will include those from a new University initiative, SHIFT, which was launched in September to change substance use culture on campus.

“If they are willing to really put people in those positions who have experience with this stuff, who know evidence-based practices for drug and alcohol-related stuff, then I think it could work out fantastically,” said James Lee, co-president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and philosophy and sociology senior . “It depends on how they frame it.”

SSDP co-president Allyson Todd said she also thinks other Austin-based organizations should be included, such as Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative, Operation Naloxone, Grassroots Leadership and Austin Harm Reduction Coalition. 

“I think the committee could be beneficial in helping students so long as it is not fear and criminal-based but rather science, evidence (and) realistic-based,” Todd, an international relations and global studies and Latin American studies senior, said in an email. “If the committee is filled with police and UT representatives, it’s not going to give a holistic and realistic view on what substance use looks like for students.”

Domínguez said assessment efforts are necessary to provide resources for students to be proactive since a large part of students’ health care takes place at UT. 

“The bottom line is to ensure that they’re educated about the risks of alcohol and drug abuse and how they can get help and how they can stay safe,” Domínguez said.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that SHIFT would not be involved in the committee. The Texas regrets this error.