“I know that he would tell them, “This is no fun. This isn’t a party,’” said David Magee, the late William Magee’s father. “This is what drowning must feel like.”
Just a little over a year ago, Oxford Eagle publisher David Magee wrote an article called “William’s Story,” which shared the struggles his son faced with drug addiction and warned incoming freshmen the dangers of drug use. The story has reached more than one million views online.
Soon after “William’s Story” gained immense readership, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc met with Magee to see how they could expand the university’s alcohol and drug education. The meeting with Magee and his wife, Kent, led to the idea of creating a wellness education center named after William.
“William was a member of the Croft Institute, an athlete, a fraternity member. He was the epitome of a rock star student,” Hephner LaBanc said. “A lot of students sometimes think they’re invincible, so I think this is a story students can identify with.”
The William Magee Center for Wellness Education will be included in the new South Campus Recreation Facility, scheduled to open in fall of 2018.
The center will focus on heightening students’ knowledge of responsible alcohol consumption and working to prevent students from abusing alcohol and other drugs by offering a number of resources.
These resources include counseling and outside referrals, a certified prevention specialist, a graduate assistant who will be dedicated to creating an alcohol and drug education program and the establishment of a peer outreach program.
“We want to have a peer outreach effort that will include students like William, students who are involved in sororities and fraternities and that are in high risk groups,” Hephner LaBanc said. “We will have a graduate assistant that will really work to build a strong peer program. A friend can be the most powerful tool.”
More than $500,000 in cash has been raised so far, in addition to $850,000 in gifts. $92,000 has been raised through the crowdfunding platform “Ignite Ole Miss.”
Wesley Clark, annual giving director of Ignite Ole Miss, said the organization agreed to take on the project because of the positive impact the Magee Center will have on the Ole Miss community.
“We decided to take on this project based on several aspects of the initiative, including its significant impact on student wellness, the commitment of university leadership and the value the Magee Center for Wellness Education will provide to our campus and local community,” Clark said.
Magee said those funds will help provide the center’s funding.
“State dollars can’t provide everything we need on a growing vibrant campus,” Magee said. “Gifts are crucial if we want to do something cutting edge like this nationally, and that is our goal.”
Sigma Nu, the fraternity that William Magee was a member of, donated a portion of funds raised from its annual philanthropy event, “Charity Bowl,” to the Magee Center.
“Ever since David Magee reached out to our chapter about his idea of establishing a center for wellness education, we have worked closely with him to make sure that we can do as much as we can to provide him with the resources he needs to accomplish his goal,” Sigma Nu President Luke Little said. “We firmly believe the William Magee Center will have the ability to positively impact and ultimately save several students that might be struggling with substance.”
Nick Egorshin, a junior accounting major and Sigma Nu co-philanthropy chair, said it is very important to the fraternity to continue to support the center’s growth.
“We plan to make donations towards the Magee Center ongoing in the next few years, at least until we can help fulfill some of the needs of the center,” Egorshin said. “Sigma Nu is proud to support the center’s inception. It’s named after one of our brothers who was extremely well-rounded and accomplished but sadly lost his battle with addiction. The Magee Center seeks to help those who need it, and hopefully it can save some of those around us struggling with the fight against addiction right now.”
The center will be very proactive and focus a lot on the transition from high school to college and how to handle the experience in a safe manner, according to Hephner LaBanc.
“This is not about punishing people for drinking. This is about teaching students how to be responsible,” Hephner LaBanc said. “We hope this center will create a better climate around the use of alcohol and drugs and teach students how to enjoy alcohol in moderation and avoid drugs overall.”
Magee said he hopes the center will be able to provide necessary help to students who need it early so they are able to reach their fullest potential in life.
“I have seen how good and talented people can take a wrong turn, getting in deeper with alcohol and drugs than they ever intended,” Magee said. “Our dream is to reach more students sooner, providing meaningful education and support that helps them stay on track. It will be so exciting to see all of our students reach their most full and powerful potential.”