Feb. 26, 2024

Newly opened drop-in and substance-free space a safe haven

1st on-campus recovery-friendly dedicated space in Alberta opens at UCalgary for students, faculty and staff
Exterior building shot of UCalgary Recovery Community Hub
Exterior shot of UCalgary Recovery Community Hub at 5, 3500-24 Ave., N.W. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

The University of Calgary is a pioneer in creating on-campus recovery-friendly spaces in Alberta. 

Last October, the UCalgary Recovery Community (UCRC) opened its dedicated space on campus: the UCalgary Recovery Community Hub at 5, 3500-24 Ave., N.W., next to the Subway in Yamnuska Hall. The hub offers substance-free events, peer support meetings, one-to-one support with social workers, and drop-in space for all campus members. 

“Providing a dedicated space is one of the best practices in supporting recovery, wellness, and inclusion,” says Dr. Victoria Burns, PhD, an addiction-recovery researcher and associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work, who is herself in long-term recovery. 

By incorporating recovery-support services on campuses, Burns says, post-secondaries can create a more robust continuum of care for community members. 

Since opening, the new space has welcomed more than 200 UCalgary community members. The UCRC had been working toward securing a dedicated on-campus space since 2021 and it is also piloting substance-free housing at UCalgary in partnership with Student Residence Services

Safe spaces best practice in campus recovery programs

“Recovery-friendly spaces and the UCRC are supports I needed both as a student in active addiction and (as) a faculty member silenced by shame about being in recovery,” says Burns, who founded and currently directs both the UCRC and Recovery on Campus Alberta (ROC). Both initiatives are aimed at supporting all recovery pathways, building community, and reducing stigma on campus. It is an initiative run at UCalgary; ROC, considered the umbrella organization co-ordinated by Chelsie Graham, supports post-secondaries across Alberta. 

“Having a dedicated space is one of the best practices of recovery programming for post-secondary institutions,” adds Tabitha Pruden, project co-ordinator for UCRC and registered social worker. Recovery, UCRC defines, involves anyone taking steps to engage in a healthier relationship to substances and behaviours by engaging pathways such as moderation, harm reduction, AA, 12 step, abstinence, etc. 

Within a week of its October opening, Pruden says, the space had already attracted students, faculty, and staff, many of whom “shared they feel an increased sense of belonging, having a safe space where they can be themselves.”

Pruden says those in or curious about recovery need safe spaces to gather, meet and support each other, especially given the dominant drinking and substance-use culture on post-secondary campuses. 

“Creating these kinds of spaces helps build confidence and pride, and the belief and value of identifying as being in recovery,” Pruden says.

University students, faculty, and staff are able to attend weekly peer support and substance-free gatherings at the space, among many other events.  

Campus environments can make recovery difficult

The post-secondary environment can be a difficult place for those in or seeking recovery from substance use or behavioural addictions, such as eating disorders and gaming. “There is a lot of pressure to drink and party, which can make it difficult for campus members,” says Graham, a registered social worker. 

“Services and supports are still emerging, and campus members can feel isolated and unsupported with these struggles.” 

Evidence shows that over 20 per cent of young adults (age 18 to 24) experience a substance use disorder (SUD), which is two to three times higher than any other age group. Seeking and receiving support is one of the key factors in recovery from addictions.

“If students feel that there is a lack of support or understanding, they may develop the sense that they do not belong, says Graham. “Lacking a sense of belonging, especially during the post-secondary years when this can be a key factor in identity development, may threaten the recovery process.”

Research suggests that sustained recovery requires a strong system of peers who are engaged, invested and supportive of the recovery process. Further research shows supportive peer networks are also critical in reducing the drinking behaviours of students

“Support from peers and the campus community are key factors in student well-being,” says Dr. Andrew Szeto, PhD, stigma researcher,  psychology professor, and director of the Campus Mental Health Strategy. “This kind of support helps students develop a sense of belonging critical to identity development, engagement at school, and their overall mental health.”

The UCalgary Community Recovery Hub is funded through the Office of the Provost, with Students’ Union Quality Money supporting the UCRC program. 

The Hub is now open for drop-ins Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The UCRC team invites the campus community to join them for an open house on Feb. 28 from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information on it and UCRC, visit the UCRC website and Instagram page.

The UCalgary Recovery Community (UCRC) is an inclusive, peer-driven group supporting all pathways to recovery, building community and reducing addiction stigma on campus. Recovery on Campus Alberta (ROC), an Alberta-wide initiative supported by Alberta Health Ministry, supports recovery across 26 post-secondary institutions through services and supports, research and collaborations, and education and training to support recovery communities on campuses throughout Alberta.

If you are questioning your relationship with substances and/or other behaviours, are in recovery, or are seeking recovery from addiction, the UCRC wants to hear from you. Learn more about the UCalgary Recovery Community. To learn more about ROC, visit the website.

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. The strategy is currently in renewal.