Support for sober students grows with new on-campus, off-campus housing options

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Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

College culture is commonly tied to drinking, but two new housing initiatives seek to expand sober spaces for UT students in recovery from addiction. 

The Healthy Lifestyles Living Learning Community will house students abstaining from alcohol in the University’s Moore-Hill Residence Hall, while Alpha 180 will open a sober fraternity house in West Campus this upcoming fall. 

With 16.3 percent of adults aged 18 to 25 meeting the criteria for a substance abuse disorder, according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, students in recovery are not new to college campuses.

“(College) is definitely a challenging time for students who want to abstain from substances for whatever reason,” said Sierra Castedo-Rodgers, assistant director of UT’s Center for Students in Recovery and the Healthy Lifestyles community. “It can be particularly challenging if a student needs to do that because they are in recovery.” 

Though the Healthy Lifestyles community isn’t exclusively for students in recovery, the 16 students in the community commit to stay sober in and out of the university residence hall and will work closely with the CSR. 

“Peer support is really what it’s all about,” Castedo-Rodgers said. “It can be really daunting to come to a college campus when you’re a person in recovery from addiction. I know that from personal experience. I’m in recovery. I got into recovery when I was in grad school here at UT-Austin, and I did feel very validated knowing I belonged.”

Aaron Voyles, a director for the Division of Housing and Food Service, said the sobriety policy in the Healthy Lifestyles community is unique because the University normally permits alcohol in dorms for students at least 21 years old. But most students living in UT’s dorms are not of drinking age, Voyles said.

“This is just going a bit further, so it’s for students who want to come home and everybody in the wing of their residence hall is sober,” Voyles said.

Even though the Healthy Lifestyles community will only house freshmen, a few sober off-campus housing options are listed on the center’s website.

Alpha 180, the first sober fraternity in the United States, hopes to become another sober housing option for students looking to live in West Campus. The fraternity will open a house for 16 male students, requiring students to have been in recovery for at least 90 days.

Bobby Ferguson, the executive director for Alpha 180, said the fraternity decided to open its first chapter in Austin to build upon the work of the CSR. The fraternity plans to open another house for female students in the spring.

“There’s a student community in sobriety already established in Austin that provides a lot of support and services for students, but doesn’t provide off-campus residential services,” Ferguson said.

The fraternity, which is not affiliated with Greek life, will also provide clinical support and academic case management for students at Alpha 180’s office and clubhouse, located at the former Texas Phi Delta Theta house in West Campus. The fraternity’s housing and services will open to UT and Austin-area college students on Aug. 23. 

Like the CSR, Alpha 180 will host social events for students to connect with the sober community at UT. Ferguson said he hopes Alpha 180 can become a safe space for sober students during the weekends and party nights like Halloween, Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day, when the CSR may not be open.

“All those times are very difficult, challenging times for sober students, and we want them to hang out on those occasions, but safe and sober,” Ferguson said. “What I want to do is help students in sobriety move out of the shadows and into the heart of student life at UT.”