Kelton Holsen, Managing Editor
When now-former StepUp student Magdalen Sheppard moved into the Oren Gateway Center last spring, she expected a clean and sober space where students could build community around recovery. It was not until she had signed her housing contract that Sheppard found out that she would be sharing the residence hall with “recovery allies”, students who live in the Oren Gateway Center but are not a part of the StepUp program.
“The first night I was there I smelled weed coming from one of the floors,” said Sheppard, who now lives off campus and has left the StepUp program. “This housing is not what we were promised. For what StepUp students pay to live in OGC, they should be provided a safe, recovery-friendly, supportive environment…[because] for people who deal with addiction, it truly is life or death.”
Approximately 100 students are participating in the StepUp program, through which students recovering from drug or alcohol abuse can experience “a full, enriched collegiate experience, with the support and encouragement that they need,” according to the Augsburg website.
Typically, part of being a StepUp student involves living in the Oren Gateway Center, a residence hall that was built specifically for StepUp students. However, since the spring of 2019, due to housing pressures, the Department of Residence Life has been placing students who are not in the program into OGC, filling a flat and some apartments in the spring and an entire floor of apartments this fall.
According to Thenedra Roots, one of StepUp’s licensed alcohol and drug counselors, recovery allies have to follow a stringent set of requirements in order to live in OGC, including signing a contract that forbids them from bringing any drugs or alcohol into OGC, being under the influence in OGC, or bringing “any friends that had [drugs or alcohol] on them or in them.” The consequences for violating this policy are removal from OGC.
Sheppard said that the requirements placed on recovery allies are not strict enough. “Non-StepUp students living in OGC only have to sign the contract and provide no empirical proof of their sobriety while in OGC,” said Sheppard. “I was rudely awoken many times by intoxicated students banging on doors, running down the halls, and screaming at all hours of the night.” She argues that recovery allies should be subject to urinalysis tests for drugs and alcohol, a requirement already imposed on StepUp students but not for recovery allies.
Roots said that this semester, the program is having more “intentional conversations” to try and clear the air around the presence of recovery allies in OGC. “At the end of the day, the building was created for students in recovery from drugs and alcohol, and while I don’t think our students have any issues welcoming students that aren’t in recovery into their building, it’s more of a respect thing,” said Roots. She also mentioned that the StepUp program is working on creating a mandatory training for recovery allies, and that the addition of recovery allies is not necessarily “a permanent situation”.
Amanda Erdman, Director of Residence Life, said in an interview that the sharing of StepUp housing with recovery allies is not a new situation. “When Oren Gateway opened [in 2007], we actually had a sizeable number of recovery allies living in the community…The introduction of recovery allies to the Oren Gateway community is actually not a new thing.” Erdman also pointed out that StepUp students used to live in Anderson floorhouses.
“I think that there are lots of perspectives regarding the presence of recovery allies in a community with people in recovery,” said Erdman. “All those opinions, and thoughts, and concerns are valid, and I would hope that when we are living in [a] community, that we can work through those things together.”
This article was originally published in the September 27, 2019 issue.