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Beware of Turf Wars

The College’s Counseling Center raised objections to our program. They expressed the concern that we were doing therapy without the requisite educational and experiential background. They worried that we received the chemical assessments when, in fact, we explicitly said we did not want to see them. We argued onGUARD is an educational program; it is not therapy. Rather, its values-based curriculum encourages students to explore who they are, how they act, and what they hope to be. Many of the onGUARD sessions are highly structured, and run much like a discussion-based academic class. Students work in small groups and often come back together to report to the group as a whole. There are strict rules not just for attendance but for active participation. We stress responsibility for the integrity of the group and ask students to lead discussions, ask questions, write on the boards, etc. The structure is very studentcentered. In addition, we all abide by a code of confidentiality that what is said in onGUARD stays in onGUARD with the exception of requirements related to Title IX. Building trust is crucial in this setting.

Challenging the position of the Counseling Center that only qualified therapists or psychologists should talk about certain “sensitive issues,” I argued that I would need to throw out a significant portion of our Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies curriculum and much of my applied ethics course. That conclusion was unacceptable.

This early turf war provided a valuable lesson that even though there is agreement about a real need, there will be disagreement about how to meet it. That disagreement may be compounded by assumptions that only certain people or professions are capable of meeting that need. Someone who crosses over from another field may be seen less as an ally and more as a dabbler, or even as an unwelcome interloper. While most certainly a disciplinary battle, it was also an unflattering revelation about philosophy’s arrogance as well as some personal arrogance. I return to this issue below.

Repurpose Projects

My colleague and I presented the onGUARD curriculum at a conference sponsored by the United States Department of Education. While the program was well-received and people expressed envy about our relationship with the Minnesota Department of Human sendees for the assessments, some expressed a concern that the program was too labor intensive and hence costly. My colleague and I had done all this work without compensation and not as part of our official responsibilities. In nearly every' college, drug and alcohol programming resides within the division of student life, which is expected to deliver drug and alcohol education to the masses at a more or less reasonable cost. Online programs deliver the material with maximum efficiency. At my college, incoming students are not allowed to register for their courses until they complete it. While we would like to distribute onGUARD to other schools, an online format presents challenges to its face-to-face discussion-based format. This distribution problem at the high school and collegiate level is a tough nut to crack. It made us realize that we needed to think beyond academic institutions.

My colleague and I tacked in a new direction and began to adapt pieces of the curriculum for half- or full-day workshops in treatment facilities or other recovery-oriented venues such as self-help groups, which directly connected us to treatment professionals and people early in recovery or remission. I’ve pursued this route working with a treatment center that offers in-patient care followed by a transitional program with housing for college students who hope to work their way back to full-time enrollment. Getting back to college is quite often the goal of students who have been expelled, suspended, or taken a medical leave of absence because of a substance use disorder. As a faculty member for nearly 25 years, I’m well positioned to help them with the academic challenges. As a person who was actively addicted and tried repeatedly to quit while in college, I also have credibility with students about the difficulties of trying to be sober in an environment where drinking is largely regarded as a vital part of the college experience.

My work with this particular treatment center was a consequence of a personal connection. If I had the time or know-how, I’d consider marketing this training more vigorously. However, there is a tension when it comes to addiction and treatment related work. It seems morally problematic to make money from others’ misery and suffering. At the same time, my intellectual labor and time have to be worth something. Exacerbating this tension is the exponential growth of for-profit treatment centers. Business is booming in an industry that is virtually unregulated and populated with some profiteers. Some treatment centers are preying on patients, offering loans to cover treatment expenses, and charging exorbitant fees for drug testing. Before I say “Yes” to speaking at any treatment center, I exercise as best I can due diligence to find out about it. I do not want to be party—even inadvertently so—to the exploitation of people struggling with addiction.

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