UCR Student Group Wins President’s Award for Leadership

Healing Highlanders, which supports people in recovery, will receive award at May 15 Regents meeting

group logo

Helping one another is the theme of the Healing Highlanders group.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Healing Highlanders, a University of California, Riverside student group that supports people in recovery has won the UC President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership It will be presented at the May 15 meeting of the UC Regents.

“Each student touched by recovery support programs such as this one is potentially a life saved,” said UCR Interim Chancellor Jane Close Conoley. “The Healing Highlanders show the compassion and understanding that students snared by drugs, alcohol and similar disorders so desperately need, and in so doing they transform lives and they transform themselves.”

We have to remember that addictive disorders are diseases like any other and we must be proactive in providing support so that these students can complete their studies successfully.”

The Healing Highlanders is a service-based student organization that provides a nurturing environment for recovering students so that these students can complete their studies successfully.” The group addresses a full spectrum of addictive disorders, which cover a vast range of issues including drugs, alcohol abuse; eating disorders and self-harm.

The President’s Award is given by UC Office of the President to two campus-based organizations each year for work that enhances multi-campus collaboration, addressing issues systemwide and advancing the University of California’s mission of teaching, research and public service. It comes with a prize of $2,000. The other recipient this year is UCweVote, a project of the UC Student Association.

Mariel Bello, founder of Healing Highlanders and student president.

Mariel Bello, founder and student president of Healing Highlanders.

Group founder and Student President Mariel Bello credited fellow students for their unstinting efforts in supporting fellow students with addictive disorders, and sharing research on collegiate recovery with other UC campuses.

Research at the Center for the Studies of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech., one of most established Collegiate Recovery Communities in the country, indicates that students with addictive disorders who receive consistent support not only remain in long-term recovery, but graduate at higher rates and with better GPAs than the general student population.

Collegiate Recovery programs are a fairly new concept, which is rapidly spreading across the nation, said the group’s advisor Audrey Pusey, associate director for residence life.  Pusey is a founding member of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, a national organization formed to accelerate the growth, support and communication between mature and emerging collegiate recovery programs.

“UCR students are on the cutting edge of the kind of proactive program that really promotes change,” Pusey said. “They create a sense of community that students in recovery urgently need to succeed academically and maintain long-term recovery, and they serve as a resource for students who may be continuing to struggle with addiction-related problems.”

The Healing Highlanders organized a conference focusing on campus recovery communities last fall that drew participants from all over the country, including the Chief of the Recovery Branch of the National Office of Drug Control Policy and leaders in addiction research and treatment.

The award was announced at the Healing Highlanders meeting by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs James Sandoval.

The award was announced at the Healing Highlanders meeting by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs James Sandoval.

“The conference opened our eyes as to what is happening on a national level,” Bello said.  “It’s epidemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control has been warning that prescription drugs have now overtaken traffic accidents as the leading cause of accidental death – killing more young people than cocaine and heroin combined.

Those are statistics that the UCR School of Medicine takes to heart, says Dr. Emma Simmons,  associate dean of student affairs at the UCR School of Medicine, a member of a steering committee advising the Healing Highlanders.

“We know that 22 percent of college-age youth nationwide use prescription drugs for non-medical reasons,” she said. “As a school focusing on primary health care, it’s vital that we train this next generation of doctors in the hazards of overprescribing pain killers and recognize the signs of addiction disorders.”

Neurological studies of the brain show that the “addictive brain” is a genetic disorder which, like any other disease, may be latent or active, Simmons said. This disease differs from others in that the treatment involves not medication but fellowship, which teaches the brain a different way of functioning.

Audrey Pusey, associate director for Residence Life

Audrey Pusey, associate director for Residence Life

“More and more young people are seeking help,” Pusey said, “and there are increasing numbers of students who are reaching the college campus having already been through an in-patient or out-patient treatment center.” Problems arise when they arrive on college campuses without support and are dropped into an environment where experimentation with drinking and drug use can be seen as part of the “rites of passage” in the college experience, she said.

“How do you tell your peers that you can’t drink with them on Thursday night because you have a disease called addition?” Pusey said. “The Healing Highlanders provide a community in which students can share their journey with other students who have experienced the same struggles.”

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