Center for Students

Spawglass Superintendent Mick Fegan oversees construction in Bellmont Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Aaron Berecka | Daily Texan Staff

The Center for Students in Recovery will relocate from the basement of the School for Social Work to Bellmont Hall early next year after a larger space for the program is constructed. 

While operating in the basement, center employees have dealt with sewage leaks and cockroach issues, which sometimes make the space uninviting for students who come to use recovery services, said the center’s director Ivana Grahovac.

“It’s already so hard for people to ask for help when they’re struggling with disease — why would we make them come to a room that is so substandard when they’re already so marginalized?” Grahovac said.

Grahovac said the program’s new space will include a break room, a lounge room for students and four offices for the staff. Originally, center administrators planned to reduce the number of offices already existing in the Bellmont location, but Grahovac said the quality of the rooms and the anticipated growth of the program made them reconsider.

“Those four rooms were in perfectly fine condition,” Grahovac said. “In fact, the original plan was to tear them down and create three offices out of four, but we walked through there, we were like ‘Wow, we’re actually going to be growing so it’s better to leave it as it is, and it would help us keep in budget.’” 

The project does include renovation of about 3,000 square feet of the second floor which will create a large meeting space for students to congregate.

Deborah Femat, project manager with Project Management and Construction Services, said the Bellmont space was formerly part of the kinesiology department but is now being renovated to meet the needs of the center.

“They have all these wonderful spaces now in the FAC and the SAC where everybody can sit around and work on their computers,” Femat said. “That’s basically what this is, but it can also be used in meetings.”

Grahovac said the original project cost was $200,000, but has escalated to $330,000. She said the center was able to raise the extra money by reaching out to supporters.

“Our fundraising is built on relationships,” Grahovac said. “Some organizations that are nonprofit have luncheons and events where they charge money to raise money for their operating expenses, but we prefer to raise money through relationships and ongoing partnerships, gifts from grants, donations [and] endowments.”

Economics senior Lance Mixon, a service co-chair for Students in Recovery, said he is excited for the new space.

“I’ve only been waiting like three years,” Mixon said. “[Moving is] a huge step, and its not because we’re not successful [in the current building], but part of it is the facade and being in the stadium and the attitude toward Bellmont hall … It’s all just different.” 

The Center will move into the new facility in mid-January.

Correction: Due to a reporting error this article which originally ran in the Nov. 21 issue of The Daily Texan has been corrected. The project's current cost was originally reported as $390,000.

The University’s Center for Students in Recovery will lead an effort to establish similar centers at the UT System’s eight other universities after the UT System Board of Regents approved $942,000 to expand the program over the next five years.

Founded in 2004, UT’s Center for Students in Recovery is one of 20 such centers at universities in the United States. With the regents’ vote to expand the program, System institutions will comprise almost one-third of all centers nationwide. The regents voted unanimously in support of the expansion during their regular meeting Wednesday at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

Collegiate recovery centers support students with alcoholism and drug addictions through educational presentations, twelve-step meetings and peer mentorship, among other resources. UT’s recovery center professional staff and volunteers will help establish unique programs for centers at each System institution.

During the meeting, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the centers will help students cope with alcohol and drug abuse that leads to academic failure and sometimes death.
“[The UT-Austin center] is highly effective in helping students deal with alcohol and drug abuse,” Reyes said. “This item is on behalf of the students.”

Regents Steven Hicks and Robert Stillwell said the existence of recovery programs has become an important issue students take into consideration when deciding which college to attend.

“I talked to a girl who transferred from [the University of Virginia] specifically because of this program and the support she would get,” Hicks said. “This is something we’re leading the country in.”
Stillwell said recovery centers are also an admissions consideration for incoming freshmen.

UT President Williams Powers Jr. said the University’s program is student-centered.

“The students, even those who are nonrecovery, have gotten involved to help,” Powers said. “It’s very student-run, but we’ve supported it. We’re very proud of what’s going on, and we’re excited about helping in any way the other institutions need.”

UT’s center recently received the Best Practices in College Health Award from the American College Health Association.

The System will fund the implementation of the centers through the Available University Fund, allocations available to the regents through a state land endowment.

Hicks said the regents’ appropriation will only help implement the centers that will eventually become self-sustaining and require no additional funding.

Steps to Recovery: Finding Strength

Ivana Grahovac is five-and-a-half years recovering from a heroin addiction and said her work with students at the center helps her maintain sobriety. She hopes to help the self-funded center grow with fundraising so that it can support more of the hundreds of students on campus who might need its services.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the last installation in a three-part series about students involved in UT’s Center for Students in Recovery — their paths to addiction and how they achieved sobriety. Read the first part of the series, Losing Control, and the second part, Hitting Bottom. Watch the interactive documentary.

Tucked away in the basement of the School of Social Work, dozens of students, alumni and community members meet to share stories and support each other in a fight for their lives.

They come from places of chemical addiction, years plagued with anxiety, failed relationships and abandoned dreams. At the Center for Students in Recovery, a self-funded program of University Health Services, they come together to work the 12 Step Program, make friends and reach out to other addicts.

Coordinator Ivana Grahovac, a five-and-a-half-year recovering heroin addict who earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, said the center provides a refuge for students who need to escape the UT party scene that challenges their sobriety each day.

“Students meet here, they eat here, they sleep here during the day sometimes,” Grahovac said. “We have meetings here, and we share our strengths, experiences and hopes. It’s our little oasis.”

As Grahovac continues to stay clean and sober after overcoming an addiction that began when she was visiting her parents’ home country of Croatia and modeling in Milan in the early 2000s, she said the students she works with help keep her clean, and she tries to do the same for them.

“They absolutely transmitted such a positive strong energy that it kept me sober and alive going through this super intense transition from being a student in Michigan to being a professional in Texas,” said Grahovac, who started working at the 7-year-old center in March.

Many of the students at the center came to UT because they knew about the program, she said. UT is one of only 14 schools in the country with such a center. Others struggled with addiction while at the University and found a family at the center when they finally began recovery.

History senior Joseph King grew up with two alcoholic parents. Although his mother got sober when King was young, he said he saw his father drink every day. Once King started drinking in high school, he was constantly abusing alcohol. At UT, he joined Sigma Phi Epsilon because he said he wanted to be in an environment where friends and family wouldn’t question his daily drinking.

After passing out drunk and getting a serious head injury during his sophomore year, his parents sent him to a long-term treatment program in Colorado. At first, he said he was miserable.

“I was two-and-a-half months sober when I decided to finally work the steps and stop fighting everybody and everything that was telling me I was an alcoholic,” King said. “From there on, my life started to get better. I was able to enjoy life every day like I had never been able to when I was drinking.”

After King started treatment, his father, who asked The Daily Texan not to publish his name, began his own recovery process after decades as a functional alcoholic. Their parallel journeys have given both of them strength to stay sober, they said.

“Helping a son is a natural parental instinct, and our relationship became stronger and deeper,” King’s father said. “When I think about my sobriety, part of what I think of is that my son is doing it too. It’s a good thing for me, and I suspect it’s a good thing for him.”

Getting sober helped former and future UT student Chris Hubbert return to photography and regain stability after a five-year addiction to amphetamines, particularly Adderall, he said. He is currently on medical withdrawal from UT, but Hubbert continues to be involved with the center and said it provides a base of support as he continues to recover and allows him to give back to other recovering students.

“Being a sponsor [to another addict] is the most amazing part. As soon as I did that, being in recovery took on a whole new meaning,” Hubbert said. “The more [love] I give away, the more there is a fullness that I have in my chest that I’ve never had before in my life.”

Since May 2009, when Hubbert left school to start treatment after failing his sixth year, he has worked in a wine factory but said he is never tempted to start using again because of his success with the 12 steps.

“I’m around alcohol every day, I’ll break bottles and have wine all over me, and it’s not really a problem,” Hubbert said. “Through working the steps and working with a sponsor and sponsoring people myself, the obsession for me to want to use has gone away.”

A bright future awaits students at the center who are committed to their education and sobriety, Grahovac said. She said she will continue to support her students and help raise funds for the center with a coffee sale program called Grounds for Recovery, created with a donation from the family of Student Government President Scott Parks. UT System regent and recovering alcoholic Steve Hicks is helping Grahovac design an endowment program that would earn the center $500,000 over the next five years.

Hubbert is returning to UT in January to finish his degree and work as an apprentice under a photography professor. King said he’s not sure what he wants to do upon graduation, but he is taking life one day at a time and has found a new passion for running.

“About a year ago, I started running because I was bored, and I started really liking it,” King said. “I did a 10K and I wanted to do more because I’m an alcoholic, and when I like something I want to do more of it.”

On Saturday, King ran a marathon.

Steps to Recovery: Hitting Bottom

Social work and psychology junior Kate Millichamp, who is a recovering alcoholic, came to UT because of the Center for Students in Recovery.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series about students involved in UT’s Center for Students in Recovery — their paths to addiction and how they achieved sobriety. Read the first part of the series, Losing ControlWatch the interactive documentary.

Broken relationships, failing academics and lost faith — these are just a few of the consequences students recovering from drug abuse and addiction identified from their years as users.

But for many addicts, it can take months or years for the consequences to build up enough to push a person toward recovery and long-term sobriety, they said.

It’s difficult for Austin Community College student Wylie Walker to identify his rock bottom moment, he said, because his low point lasted for two years. In high school, he said he was a social drinker, and he experimented with marijuana and other drugs.

But when he left for Oklahoma State University, he started using oxycodone to escape the feelings of anxiety and loneliness he was experiencing. When he started running out of money to buy pills, things got out of control.

“I started making Cs and Ds and Fs and Ws because I was just trying to figure out how to get money, trying to get in touch with a dealer, trying to get high,” Walker said.

Ultimately, Walker said, it was his failing relationships with his parents and younger sister that pushed him to get clean. When his sister was a senior in high school — after his first failed stint in rehab and after he started using heroin — he pawned his mother’s camera to buy drugs, so she couldn’t take pictures at his sister’s prom.

“Before he started using, he was my hero,” said his sister, Ella Walker. “Even after, I wanted to deny it. Eventually he turned into someone I didn’t even know anymore, and it was the biggest let down.”

Wylie Walker finally began recovery in May 2009. He said the people he met in recovery inspired him to commit to sobriety, especially friends in treatment and later at the UT Center for Students in Recovery, a self-funded program offered by University Health Services that gives recovering addicts at UT and in Austin a space to meet other sober students and work on the 12 Step Program.

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous because of the stigma surrounding addiction in her Muslim community, said her best friend helped push her to start recovery after four-and-a-half years of using narcotics every day.

She first started using when a doctor prescribed medication after she injured her shoulder. She became dependent, taking five to six pills per day just to function. When she got to UT, the number increased to 10 to 12.

Eventually, she could not go more than a few hours without experiencing withdrawals. At the end of July 2009, she did not have access to pills for 24 hours and ended up in the hospital, but she still didn’t believe she was addicted.

“I thought I was just a person who needed pills to function, but hello, that’s an addict,” she said. “My friends and my sister were like, ‘You need to go to the Center for Students in Recovery,’ but I was like, ‘No, I’m not like that, I’m different.’”

She relapsed within a week of her hospital visit, but her best friend helped wean her off pills by forcing her to confront her desperation and commit to sobriety. She stopped using on Sept. 9, 2009 and has rebuilt her relationships with friends and family and reconnected with her faith.

Social work and psychology junior Kate Millichamp started drinking her freshman year of high school and was soon binge drinking and using cocaine regularly. As soon as she started driving at 16, she would drive while blackout drunk.

During her senior year, when she realized that she might not graduate from high school, she went to rehab for the first time. After graduation, she chose to go to McDaniel College, a small liberal arts school in Maryland, hoping the environment would help her maintain sobriety. It didn’t.

“I wasn’t able to get to very many [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings and I didn’t know anyone on campus who was sober,” Millichamp said.

She applied to transfer to UT because she knew about the center. However, in her second semester at McDaniel, she relapsed after 18 months of sobriety.

During summer 2010, Millichamp went to outpatient rehab but kept using alcohol and cocaine by using other people’s urine and scheduling her use around her drug tests. It took two drunken driving accidents to push her into recovery.

“Even though I haven’t been hurt and I haven’t hurt anyone else, I knew I would at some point,” she said. “The way that I was going, I was so destructive and I couldn’t not drink and drive.”

All three students said they had to have extremely low points before they could enter a period of healthy and hopefully permanent recovery. Now the center gives them the space they need to keep growing and putting their addictions behind them.

“You have to take that addict part of you and make a sober person by going through the 12 Steps,” the student who asked to remain anonymous said. “Addiction is still part of my identity — it’s part of who I am ­— but it no longer defines me.”

Steps to Recovery: Losing Control

Kim, a social work junior, started using alcohol and weed at 13, but only heroin provided the relief from her social anxiety she was looking for. She went through a detox program just before her high school graduation, and got involved with the Center for Students in Recovery when she started at UT.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series about students involved in UT’s Center for Students in Recovery — their paths to addiction and how they achieved sobriety. Watch the interactive documentary.

For many college students, there’s a fine line between having a good time and losing control. The line narrows between recreational use, abuse and dependency.

But the students at UT’s Center for Students in Recovery have gone across these lines and back again, and they say that the support of the center’s sober community helps them stay clean and enjoy UT without the substances that threw their teen years into disrepair.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders identifies both chemical abuse and chemical dependency as medical problems. Both occur at higher rates at universities, where more people are using, said Carl Erickson, an associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Pharmacy who specializes in chemical dependency.

“Dependence is a brain disease; abuse is students getting too drunk over and over,” Erickson said. “Either way, most people need a lot of help to overcome these problems.”

Biomedical engineering senior Evan Luther was 12 the first time he drank alcohol. He and his friends stole different bottles of liquor from his parents and mixed them together. Although he blacked out and woke up with a brain-splitting hangover, he said he remembers enjoying the experience.

“I was like, ‘that wasn’t so bad; that was kind of entertaining,’” Luther said. “Looking back, there were several indicators that my reaction to drugs and alcohol might be different than some people’s.”

Luther grew up in an affluent San Antonio neighborhood, his parents are both doctors and there is little history of addiction in his family. It is difficult to explain the next four years, which Luther said locked him into a cycle of drug addiction that resulted in his expulsion from high school, in-patient rehab, relapse and running away from home.

These consequences didn’t bother him as long as he was able to drink and use drugs, he said.

“If it could get me high, I would do it,” Luther said. “At that point in my life, I [would] have told you I [was] doing it because it was fun, but I do believe I was doing it because I had to. At some point, I passed into a stage where there was no choice in the matter — I was gonna get high, even if I didn’t want to.”

Eventually, his parents felt they had to send him to rehab. After 28 days of in-patient treatment, he started attending 12-Step addiction meetings and got a sponsor. But after his male sponsor made sexual advances, Luther said he had an excuse to give up his treatment and started drinking again.

Soon, that led to using methamphetamine, the drug he said made him “weak at the knees.” He grew more dependent on meth than he had been on any other drug, and he used it almost every day for six months. His family struggled to survive Luther’s drug use as he continued to steal from them and use drugs at home.

“You have a kid who you think is pretty bright, pretty caring, and all of a sudden, he’s a monster,” said Jackie Pugh, Luther’s mother. “I remember a Christmas Eve, his grandmother’s birthday, he was on a big binge and was totally inappropriate. It ruined everybody’s Christmas.”

Even after Luther got to the long-term treatment center in Georgia where he would continue high school and eventually get sober for good, he said he spent the first six months there trying to get his hands on the substances that drove his choices and behaviors.

“I was still trying to get high because I didn’t want to be sober,” Luther said. “My plan when I got out was to leave there and cook meth.”
For Luther, drugs and alcohol were a social outlet and a chemical addiction. Social work sophomore Kim, who asked to have her last name withheld, said the alcohol and marijuana she started using at 13 helped her overcome the social anxiety she had fought since she was very young.

“I didn’t fit in very well, even in elementary school. I have anxiety and depression, and it was self-medication,” Kim said. “I was smoking weed and drinking, but that wasn’t working for me, so I moved onto hallucinogens and opium and all that junk.”

When Kim moved to Dallas from Florida at 16, her social anxiety worsened as a new student at W.T. White High School in North Dallas. The dropout teenagers in her neighborhood helped her get in touch with heroin dealers, and her habit became a constant drive. She pawned her valuables, had sex in exchange for drugs and narrowed her social circle to other users.

“There were drug dealers on every street,” Kim said. “It was very accessible where I lived, and school was just what I did during the day. Heroin gave me complete apathy, and that’s really what I wanted.”

During the years when Luther and Kim were using drugs, they said they had no interest in sobriety. Looking back, they said it’s hard to believe where their drug use took them, but at the time, they simply didn’t have any interest in the other options.

“In that drug haze, I didn’t care about anything,” Kim said. “I didn’t think about what was happening to my family, my education or my body. As long as I could still get dope, I could keep getting through the day.”

Drug abuse and genital warts are two often-ignored women’s issues that the sisters of Zeta Sigma Chi highlighted on Wednesday during Women’s Health Day 2010.

Women and women’s resource providers gathered in the Texas Union to inform students about the prevalence of issues that often afflict women but are seldom covered by the media.

Speakers distributed information about sexual and mental health, drug and alcohol abuse and nutrition.

People often stigmatize women who struggle with addiction by thinking they look or act a certain way, said Ivana Grahovac, program coordinator of the Center for Students in Recovery.

Grahovac said it took her eight years to complete her undergraduate studies partially because she took time off to model, intern in Washington, D.C., and, later, struggle with drug addiction.

“I struggled with bulimia and I was addicted to heroin,” she said. “I was letting my addiction systematically destroy everything I had in my life, and I was ready to give up.”

Grahovac has spent years educating students and parents about how to deal with addiction, and introducing them to recovery. She also welcomed students to the women’s Alcoholics Anonymous group that meets Fridays at 8 a.m.

“At the center we let students know there is a beautiful life out there, and we want to help them find the best version of themselves possible,” she said.

Sexual health issues often affect college students, said Guli Fager, health education coordinator at the Health Promotion Resource Center.

Fager said although most of the diseases she helps students cope with are curable, they often take their toll on students emotionally.

“A student having to deal with the reality of a [sexually transmitted infection] can be really heartbreaking,” she said. “We try to comfort them and say, ‘We’ll get you help,’ but it’s up to them to be proactive in staying healthy.”

The center provides students with prevention information and up to three free condoms a day, and refer treatment in the event of an infection.

Women’s Health Day is a Zeta Sigma Chi annual program that is usually hosted in Jester where members pass out informational pamphlets.

Nutrition senior Peace Dike said it was important for this year’s event to be more effective because their former method of tabling was not sending the message they wanted.

“We want to impact women and give them tangible information about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but we weren’t doing that passing things out at a table once a year,” Dike said.