‘Photovoice’ Narrates Students’ Stories of Recovery from Substance Abuse

The students are undergraduates, graduates, and medical students

Faculty, staff, and students at UCR are invited to attend a free “photovoice” exhibit on campus at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

Titled “Behind the Lens: Students Voicing Recovery,” the two-hour event at the Barn will use photography to voice the recovery experiences and needs for recovery support and management of 15 UCR students in recovery from substance abuse – all of whom are participating in the project.

Light refreshments will be served. RSVPs are requested at voicingrecovery.eventbrite.com or 951-715-2703.

“The 15 students are undergraduates, graduates, and medical students,” said Ann M. Cheney, an expert in substance abuse and an assistant professor in residence in the Department of Social Medicine and Population Health in the Center for Healthy Communities at the School of Medicine. “The exhibit showcases their voices through photography.”

Cheney explained that the 15 students were each given cameras to take photos that best capture and express how they experience being students in recovery.  The photos are associated with research questions that the students answer, with their photos.

The narratives of their photos reflect four themes that will be the focus of the exhibit: (1) the College Environment: A Culture of Drinking; (2) the Recovery Experience: The “Neglected Addict”; (3) the Recovery Path: Academics, Art, Nature, and Sport; and (4) Campus and Community Recovery Support.

Audience members will have an opportunity to interpret the photos covering all four themes. Then, for each photo, a student presenter will discuss the photo, narrate its meaning, and read one of the audience member’s interpretation of the photo.  After the presentation of all the photos, a panel discussion will follow.  Cheney, the principal investigator of the study, and Katheryn Rodriguez, the project coordinator, will participate in the panel.

“The exhibit will show the power of using photos to voice student recovery experiences and needs,” said Cheney, also the co-chair of the UCR Collegiate Recovery Advisory Board.  “Each photo will have text associated with it.”

Cheney chose to conduct the study because she is interested in hearing the voices of students in recovery and humanizing their experiences.

“We don’t want to treat the students as a statistic,” she said. “We chose photovoice because it is a participatory action method, providing marginalized students with a tool to voice their experiences, concerns, and ideas for campus recovery support.”

The long-term goal of the project, Cheney explained, is to enact structural and system-wide change in the recognition and treatment of students in recovery.

The Nov. 1 event is geared toward the UCR community.  The general public can see the photovoice exhibit at 6 p.m., Friday, Nov. 3, at Back to the Grind, a coffeehouse located at 3575 University Avenue, downtown Riverside, where the photovoice exhibit will be on display until Nov. 30.

Funding provided by the UC Regents will allow Cheney to take the photovoice exhibit to other UCs in early 2018.

Representing the School of Medicine, Cheney is partnering with Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a fraternity that launched a campaign called “Never Again” to raise awareness of substance-use addiction on college campuses; and Solid Ground, a Riverside-based organization that specializes in emotional wellness and healing, and offers counseling for teens and young adults as well as an outpatient drug treatment program for adults.

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