We Need To Talk About the Privilege of Collegiate Recovery
According to latest demographic studies by collegiate recovery program (CRP) researchers, the collegiate recovery population is dominated by white males. Additionally, collegiate recovery, as a whole, implies the wherewithal to enter into and achieve college success, despite the setbacks and academic disruptions that are often a part of addiction. When we add the phenomena of helicopter parenting into the mix, we begin to see a precedence of collegiate recovery that involves a composition of students largely of means, with a high degree of social capital implicit to their being, and the utilizing of that social capital to ensure successful outcomes. I know this because I measure incoming recovery capital of our students, to say it rates as “high” would be an understatement.
Knowing the facts about what it takes to enter into and sustain recovery, to access treatment, and to enter into higher education; can we say that we are working toward, or away from, greater social inclusion that crosses ethnic, class, and identity divides?
I am writing this piece informally, rather than as a recovery researcher, for larger distribution than the narrow halls of peer-review academic journals, because I believe it needs to be understood by many involved in the recovery field. In my time involved in collegiate recovery, both as a student and as a professional, I have noticed specific trends in the fields. Some of these trends have been short-lived, and others have been more enduring. One thing that has always stuck with me is the demographic outliers I have seen in collegiate recovery.
As an undergraduate student in collegiate recovery, I remember there were a few of us “older” students. I myself landed somewhere on the non-traditional side, but was free enough from most adult responsibilities that I was able to manage my education and recovery easily, partaking in part time work and loans. I remember one of my fellow students who worked over 40 hours a week at Burger King, while raising children, while managing her recovery, while going to school. I also remember a student who had been pipelined into the CRP from a recovery high school, who had over five years of recovery and was not even old enough to drink. I also remember an older peer who was so overwhelmed by the financial prospects of school, and by his own computer illiteracy, that he quickly came unraveled shortly after the semester began. And still, there were several students who were my seniors, who went on to overcome enormous odds and to this day do great things. In the realm of the demographic outliers, I have seen people succeed, and fail, often in dramatic fashion.
I know this because I measure incoming recovery capital of our students, to say it rates as “high” would be an understatement.
I have often said among my colleagues today that any discussion of recovery research which does not include a caveat about privilege, ethnicity, class, and the like, is ultimately incomplete. I believe this wholeheartedly today; perhaps even more so that when I first said it. In this day and age where a person of lower social status, with limited means, struggling with addiction, faces abysmal prospects for treatment, much less, for an education- we must temper the enthusiasm of collegiate recovery success with the knowledge that for many, a full transformative set of life changes through a comprehensive recovery continuum is all but out of reach. With the political and medical expediency of medication-assisted therapies, and the ensuing gentrification of the treatment industry, one wonders if those less-privileged will ever get a shot at a life of complete physical, emotional, and intellectual freedom that many of us, who are products of collegiate recovery, enjoy today. Add on the complications of behavioral health, co-occurring disorders, and the prospects for the underclass with addiction grow ever weaker, despite the recent influx of public money and even the growing public support for recovery initiatives.
Knowing the facts about what it takes to enter into and sustain recovery, to access treatment, and to enter into higher education; can we say that we are working toward, or away from, greater social inclusion that crosses ethnic, class, and identity divides? When that knowledge is coupled with cognizance of the social and economic forces acting upon the underclass with addiction; forces that are often the deciding factor between transformative freedom in recovery or ongoing misery, can we honestly say we are doing enough in our respective areas to ensure and expand the promise of recovery for all people who seek it? Can we say we are working for recovery as a human right for all, especially in collegiate recovery? Do we go about our days in conscious efforts to expand the vision and hope we see in recovery? In our daily work, do our actions codify systems of power that fall unevenly upon people? Do we consciously seek to deconstruct the injustice we know is there, or do we turn a blind eye?
I think these are legitimate questions. And they need to be asked.
A Challenge to the Reader:
Rather than going off of some community-based narrative filled with suggestions about social justice, rather than playing my well-used social worker card, rather than making platitudes, and rather than pointing to whatever theoretical and scientific research there is on the topic of social justice- I think, for once, I am just going to leave those questions out there, for each of us to consider, in our own way. All efforts at solving questions of privilege involve exceedingly complex answers which must inherently start with the acknowledgement of our own positions in the world. But the recognition of privilege, and the acknowledgement of that privilege is the first step. It allows us to set aside the assumed normalcy of our lives, of our own recovery success. Personal deconstruction of one’s own privilege elicits a deep empathy, and from a place of empathy, real effort toward changes becomes imperative and personal, this in turn grows a sense of responsibility. Such responsibility to one another, now more than ever, must be the central part of our work at every stage of the continuum.