NU adjusts to losing substance abuse counselor

Norwich University’s decision to cut its director of health and wellness as part of a cost-saving effort last May has left the school without anyone to oversee issues of alcohol and substance abuse.

Substance abuse, especially of alcohol, is a problem here at Norwich, according to Dean of Students Martha Mathis. Director of Health and Wellness Gail Mears, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor (LDAC), worked primarily on substance abuse prevention.
Last May, Mears was cut because the university is “trying to solve a budget problem,” said Jay Wisner, director of human resources at Norwich.
“She was definitely a professional in that area (substance abuse),” said Mathis. Mears’s position’s “primary function was in the area of substance abuse prevention and education,” said Wisner.
Norwich is working with the Central Vermont Substance Abuse Services to find someone with the skills and expertise to replace Mears. “Dean Mathis and student affairs are working with my office and Title 9 to discuss this situation,” said Wisner.
Title 9 refers to the equal opportunity coordinator at Norwich, who also deals with issue of sexual harassment and assault. As Mathis said, “sexual assault and alcohol go together.”
Alcohol is the main focus here and students will be punished for abusing it. Students caught violating the alcohol policy can receive up to 30 hours of work, mandatory alcohol education classes, and for athletes, suspension up to 10 games.
“Athletes playing a spring sport are real conscientious because 10 games is half the season,” said Mathis.
Mathis’s goal is to have the Central Vermont Substance Abuse Agency to come once or twice a week and do assessments, but she said that the real question is who should be sent for counseling.
“As a Resident Advisor (RA), do I run the risk of saying ‘no, its just one beer,’ because we don’t know where that student comes from or what their background. Is this my chance to help?” said Mathis.
Safe Rides is a great program that the university offers to students. Certified drivers will pick up students at off campus locations when they’ve been drinking, or even if they just feel unsafe walking back.
Safe rides will take the student right to their dorm. This helps many students from staying away from trouble, but there still are some others who will enter the dorm and start causing disruption.
Losing Mears is something that the university should be concerned because her full time job was to help students and prevent alcohol abuse. The human resources department is working hard with outside agencies to get speakers on campus to teach students about substance abuse and safety.
So with the loss of Mears, the university will have to find alternate solutions to teach and protect students. As Mathis said, “One does not really know what you have until its gone.”

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