Opinions

The Importance of Substance-Free Programming, Education, and Community at Holy Cross

Julia Maher ’23

Despite the strong party and alcohol culture that pervades most college campuses, some students choose to abstain from alcohol and drugs for different reasons — due to a family history of addiction, financial reasons, addiction recovery, medications, or simply and plainly because they do not want to use. Students should not have to explain why they abstain from alcohol and drugs. To work toward normalizing sobriety and empowering sober and substance-free students, many colleges offer support through various programs and communities.

At the College of the Holy Cross, the program Students Who Empower, Educate, and Train (SWEET) recently debuted on campus. According to the myHC page, “SWEET (formerly Students for Responsible Choices) are peer educators who collaborate with the campus community to create a safe and positive environment. We are a non-judgmental resource that provides information about risky substance use, how to be safer if you choose to use, and healthy and fun substance-free events on campus. No matter what your choice is, we’re here for you.”

Photo courtesy of Valentina Moran
Substance-Free Graphic

As a substance-free student myself, I really value the programming and community that SWEET offers. I am not a peer educator, just a participant, but it is a great option for students who abstain from alcohol and drugs. SWEET fosters a sense of community, which is especially important for students in recovery from substance abuse because college students are at risk of relapse as a result of their environment (NCBI, “Supporting Students in Recovery on College Campuses”, 2011).

At times, it can feel isolating being sober in college and it seems like everyone is having more fun than you are, however, in my opinion and in my life, the long-term benefits of sobriety far outweigh the instant gratification of using substances. I enjoy making connections with people who are sober or substance free because it makes me feel more welcome at Holy Cross.

Sarah Crinnion ’24, a SWEET peer educator, spoke of the importance of the program, “I think having substance-free programming is so important because despite the assumption that all college students drink and use, there are actually many who choose not to for various reasons. It’s important that we create a community that all people can feel comfortable in and I think SWEET is doing a great job of creating this environment for students who identify as substance free. I’ve had a great time working with Joy and the other students in SWEET to create programs and educate the campus about substance abuse. Our most recent event, the trip to APEX Entertainment, was a blast and the turnout was extremely encouraging! I think it goes to show just how important it is that we, as a school, have a strong community and events for those looking to have fun without using substances.”

It is important that Holy Cross supports a diverse student body, and that includes students who are sober or substance free. Holy Cross seems like a very small and homogeneous community, and this feels excluding for some groups of students on campus. Through developing substance-free programming and creating groups like SWEET Holy Cross will truly align with this segment of its mission statement: “Shared responsibility for the life and governance of the College should lead all its members to make the best of their own talents, to work together, to be sensitive to one another, to serve others, and to seek justice within and beyond the Holy Cross community.” Since there is a strong party and alcohol culture on campus, a supportive substance-free group is crucial, especially in order for our community to “be sensitive to one another” and “to seek justice within and beyond the Holy Cross community.” The Holy Cross community could do a better job of accepting substance-free students and not judge them; in order to do this, they must develop qualities of sensitivity and empathy for others who lead different lifestyles.

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