New campus organization counters stigma surrounding substance abuse recovery
RU.HERE, a new organization on campus this semester, takes a two-pronged approach to combating the stigma of substance abuse. The club provides support and resources to those in recovery and also works with the Rutgers community to educate students on the issue.
“I look at recovery as the next major social justice movement,” said Megan Fernandez, the club president. The School of Arts and Sciences senior is the organization founder and a member of the recovery community on campus.
Fernandez said she has an interest in collaborating with various social justice clubs on campus, mentioning the various LGBTQIA advocates, as well as Rutgers No More, an organization which focuses on violence and sexual assault prevention.
“I think that our message is pretty much the same,” Fernandez said. “We’re trying to change the dialogue, the attitude and the stigma on campus about certain issues that are sometimes really hard to talk about."
Despite varying topics, Fernandez said she believes that all social justice clubs move toward the same goal.
The organization provides support for students recovering from any type of substance abuse, not just alcohol, Fernandez said.
RU.HERE allows students the option of preserving the anonymity of their recovery status by welcoming those who are not necessarily in recovery to be involved in meetings and events. In addition to those living in the recovery housing on campus, there are also students who commute or live off-campus who are in recovery, Fernandez said.
“We have this community, but we’re very limited because people want to stay anonymous,” she said. “They don’t really want to come out and walk about their sobriety.”
To solve this issue and to foster a positive community for those in recovery, RU.HERE also has members who are allies, Fernandez said.
“So people who have friends or family in recovery can come to our events, and be involved in our activities,” she said.
A unique take on the traditional support group, which focuses on the shared recovery experience, it is not necessary for a member of RU.HERE to discuss their recovery in order to be involved. This enables students who are in recovery to be more active on campus and enjoy a fuller Rutgers experience.
In its very first semester, the focus of the club is to gain new members, Fernandez said. They currently have about 20 members, and will begin receiving funding from the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) next semester, she said.
“Just like any other social justice movement, whether it’s LGBT, whether it’s the transgender rights movement or anything, we need allies. So we’re working on getting people who are living in any housing, people who aren’t affected by addiction, to step up and say, ‘Hey, this is really important, and I’m going to spend a few hours a month working for this cause,'” she said.
RU.HERE also seeks to engage the Rutgers community in a meaningful discussion about the stigma that prevents students from seeking help for addiction, Fernandez said. The first goal is to help others understand that addiction is typically viewed incorrectly and to help others understand the recovery process.
“A lot of people will say to me, ‘I think my roommate or I think my friend has a problem drinking, but they don’t black out, or they don’t get into fights. They don’t do hard drugs, so they must not be an addict or an alcoholic,'” Fernandez said. “I think that when they put people in boxes — thinking that certain things have to happen in order for someone to need help, it’s really dangerous."
Kathleen Foley, the social media manager for RU.HERE, echoed Fernandez’s desire to use the club as a way to educate students about substance abuse and addiction.
“I hope to be able to fight the stigma against addiction, and spread the word that it is indeed a disease and not a moral deficiency,” Foley said. The School of Arts and Sciences sophomore is also a member of the recovery community on campus.
Rutgers students are very open-minded, Foley said.
“It would be rad to see something beautiful come out of this organization, such as a more open dialogue about addiction and alcoholism on campus,” she said.
Fernandez said the organization hopes to find members that are really positive and have an excited energy, even if they are not in recovery themselves.
In addition to participating in the Relay for Life event on campus at the end of March, the organization is planning several day-trips through the spring, including a special tour of an equestrian farm in Princeton, Fernandez said.
The farm, affiliated with the construction company that built the new Academic Building and the Honors College on the College Avenue campus, allows people who are in rehab to work with the animals on the weekend. This helps people provide for themselves while in treatment, she said.
“I think it’s an important organization because Rutgers needs a community like RU.HERE to combat the rising problems of substance abuse,” said Foley. “If RU.HERE can help in any way, then I know it’s worth being a part of.”
Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in public policy. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.