Amid the pandemic, the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and the importance of mental health, have become more prevalent than ever for college students. As a result, the Associated Student Body and the Center of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct collaborated to create UM Drug Safety and Wellness Week: five days of virtual events and to encourage discussion about these issues.
“We noticed a need in our community,” Gabby Hunter, Associated Student Body judicial chair, said. “18-24 is a very dangerous age for almost all of the problems we have in our society, and so, we really wanted to talk about it in a way that destigmatized addiction and also brought light to how mental health is impacted in it.”
Hunter said de-stressing during finals week and raising awareness on these issues before the holiday break is crucial. She also said ASB is attuned to the fact that a lot of students are struggling right now.
“We know that a lot of students are probably going to struggle with being home for two months,” Hunter said. “Home isn’t always the best place for some of our students, so we want to focus on drug and alcohol safety, especially around the holidays.”
The week’s virtual events included yoga via Zoom on Monday night and a watch party with a discussion of Netflix documentary “America’s Deadliest Drug: Fentanyl” on Tuesday night.
Jack Furla, a junior public policy leadership major, attended the events as well as a tabling event at the Union Plaza on Wednesday.
“I thought that (the watch party) was a really cool and informative way to show our student body the importance of the problem,” Furla said. “What really stuck out to me is the importance of having Narcan (a medication designed to reverse opioid overdose), just in case it could save a life.”
Hunter said Thursday’s outreach is dedicated to understanding fentanyl in response to events that have happened in Oxford this year.
“We haven’t seen a university response from the administration acknowledging the death of a student, which is disheartening,” Hunter said. “We as students and as community members have the responsibility to hold our campus accountable, to hold authority figures accountable, and to have this conversation.”
Tracy Murry, director of the UM Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct, said her office wants to provide proactive information and encourage education and healthy dialogue concerning drugs and alcohol among Ole Miss students.
“We want students to feel comfortable talking to us or talking to other officers about questions they may have in order to make better choices about things that could be dangerous for them,” Murry said. “I think sometimes people come with the idea that when talking to your parents or to faculty (or) staff members, that there are certain things you shouldn’t talk about.”
Brittany Dawson, assistant director of the conflict resolution and student conduct office, said the purpose of the office is to help students.
“The biggest thing that I want students to understand is we are also a resource for them,” Dawson said. “Although they may end up in our office for a violation, we strive to also connect students to additional resources to help them be successful.”
ASB’s judicial council is working to find ways to address these issues in a way that is not only punitive, but also restorative. Hunter said they want to make students feel seen and heard rather than punishing them.
“I think that if people really took a step to be genuine, and let down that wall and talk about these hard issues, our society would be better, and we’d have more ways to make change,” Hunter said.
Hunter said she wants to encourage students to have a voice in this conversation and reach out to organizations such as Active Minds, ASB and the conflict resolution and student conduct office for information and help.
“We don’t want (the conversation) to end this week,” Hunter said. “Take this to your families at Thanksgiving, talk about this at Christmas and talk about this with your friends.”