Schooled Reporting on education

Fighting addiction on campus

Education | Amid frightening student deaths, a program at Baylor University integrates faith and recovery
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 11/20/19, 05:14 pm

Nine male students at the University of Southern California have died so far this semester, at least three from suicide and four from suspected overdoses. Three of them died over four days, starting Nov. 8.

“Students are pleading for answers from the university,” said Natalie Bettendorf, managing editor of The Daily Trojan student newspaper. “There’s a sense of desperation from within the student body. There have been too many deaths and not enough answers.”

Administrators at the private university in Los Angeles are trying to quell fears and answer questions. USC President Carol L. Folt confirmed the deaths last week and said the university was “doubling down” on educating students about drug and substance abuse. “And in particular, we’ve been also talking about the real risks of mixing opioids and prescription drugs and alcohol because we are concerned about that,” she told the Los Angeles Times.

USC administrators sent an all-campus letter last week warning about drug and alcohol abuse and reminding students of available mental health services and counseling. The school, with an enrollment of more than 47,000 students, increased the number of mental health counselors on campus by nearly 50 percent this fall to 45 counselors and four psychiatrists, the Times reported. A website called Trojans Care 4 Trojans allows students, faculty, and staff to submit an anonymous form if they have concerns for another person on campus. Staff with the Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention review and respond to the submitted forms.

Ambivalence about life drives both suicides and drug overdoses, Paul Nestadt, a Johns Hopkins psychiatry professor, told the Times. “They are both kind of going up at the same time, almost twin epidemics.”

The suicide rate for people ages 10 to 24 in the United States rose by 56 percent from 2007 to 2017, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October. Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death behind accidental injury (car crashes, drownings, and drug overdoses) in that age group. The drug overdose death rate for adults has historically been highest among those in their 30s and 40s and lowest for people younger than 25 and older than 65. But rates among college-age adults are rising, according to the CDC.

Christian colleges and universities can speak to substance abuse and provide addiction recovery services in ways that secular schools can’t, said Lilly Ettinger, the assistant director of wellness and recovery at Baylor University. In 2017, she helped launch the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center (BARC) at Baylor, a Baptist school of about 17,000 students in Waco, Texas. The BARC is on the first floor of a Baylor dorm in a busy part of campus and serves about 60 students a week who are struggling with addiction or in recovery.

Baylor was the first Protestant college or university in the United States to launch an addiction recovery center, according to Ettinger. She said faith and addiction recovery have a natural connection: “We are a school that believes in redemption and resurrection.”

Ettinger often tells students struggling with addictions they are made in the image of God, a foundational truth that fights ambivalence. But she couldn’t make that statement freely if she worked on a secular campus. The BARC provides contemplative prayer twice a week, along with secular and Christian abstinence-based recovery meetings in the evenings.

The center hasn’t been around long enough to measure its success rate, but Ettinger said it has opened the doors for healthy communication about drugs and alcohol, something the Baptist school struggled with: “Having the BARC on campus has enabled us to have conversation we didn’t know how to have before.” She also said it matters to parents who are dropping off their 18-year-olds at college for the first time, many of whom tell her, “I’m glad this exists. I hope my child doesn’t need it, but I’m glad it exists.”

Associated Press/Photo by Julio Cortez Associated Press/Photo by Julio Cortez Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (right) hands off to fullback Nelson Smith at a game against Tulane on Oct. 26.

Going pro, sir

Athletes at the U.S. military academies can now pursue professional sports after graduating. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday laid out new guidelines allowing graduates who become pro athletes to delay active duty service. The athletes need permission from the secretary of defense and must eventually fulfill what is typically a five-year military obligation or repay the costs of their education.

President Donald Trump in June ordered the Pentagon to develop the new guidelines. Military service secretaries can nominate a student for the waiver if, according to Esper, there “is a strong expectation that a Military Service Academy cadet or midshipman’s future professional sports employment will provide the DOD with significant favorable media exposure.”

A similar Obama-era policy that allowed some military graduates to go pro opened the door for the Baltimore Ravens to draft U.S. Naval Academy quarterback Keenan Reynolds in 2016. But the Defense Department later rescinded the policy because service academies “exist to develop future officers,” then–Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in 2017. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Associated Press/Photo by Marc Levy Associated Press/Photo by Marc Levy Jim and Evelyn Piazza, whose son Timothy died after binge drinking at a Pennsylvania State University fraternity house, at a news conference last month

Dying to get in a fraternity

The plague of drug and alcohol abuse on college campuses is especially afflicting fraternities. Ten fraternity pledges have died at U.S. universities in the past three years. That’s a sharp increase from 50 years ago, when there was on average one death per year in similar circumstances.

On Tuesday’s The World and Everything in It, Mary Reichard interviewed Anthony Bradley, a professor of religious studies at The King’s College in New York City, on why young men in the social clubs tend to take deadly chances.

“These young men are willing to put their lives on the line for the purpose of getting all of those benefits of being in a fraternity,” he said. “You have to send your children into these organizations, if they’re interested, fully aware of the risks.” —Lynde Langdon

Kiley Crossland

Kiley reports on marriage, family, and sexuality for WORLD Digital. Follow Kiley on Twitter @KileyCrossland.

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  • AlanE
    Posted: Wed, 11/20/2019 10:15 pm

    Probably somebody should start connecting some dots here. Interesting that the two campuses in the lead article are very expensive private schools. One is at least nominally Christian while the other is decidedly secular. So, we can infer that these kids in trouble are, at least in large part, coming from very affluent families. Increasing affluence (funded, at least in part, by national debt) is attended by increased drug use, increased rates of suicide, and a whole host of other problems. Affluence doesn't give meaning to your existence. We're chasing some highly destructive ends.