College AA services must fight ‘stigma’

Christina Chaey

At a student’s request, Alcoholics Anonymous has established a chapter at Northwestern, but CAPS directors say the group must still deal with the stigma attached to alcoholism on a college campus.

AA began holding weekly meetings in the Life Skills room in the Counseling and Psychological Services building in April, when a student approached NU’s Health Service and asked if the university would support the start of a new group, said Dr. Michele Morales, director of health education.

“Adolescents are the fastest-growing substance-abuse population,” Morales said. “I can’t imagine a worse place than the college environment to get clean or try to stay clean.”

Neither NU’s CAPS nor Health Service has any formal involvement with AA, said Morales and Dr. John Dunkle, executive director of CAPS. The university provides AA with a meeting place, Morales said. A core principle of AA is that it maintains complete independence from any institution, according to the AA Web site.

“One of the requirements of AA is that it be leaderless,” Dunkle said. “You can’t have the mental health people leading it.”

There are students who regularly attend weekly AA meetings on campus, Morales said, though she would not specify how many.

“They are open to anyone,” she said. “You don’t have to identify yourself as an alcoholic to attend a meeting.”

The program will provide help to students who seek a comfortable environment with other people their age, Dunkle said.

“Historically, AA groups for students on campus have been challenging because of the stigma associated with it,” he said. “Having this group on campus is really a positive thing and hopefully those students who need it will take advantage of it.”

Other schools that offer AA services to students include Brown University, Stanford University and Dartmouth College.

“More and more schools are trying to offer stuff like this,” Morales said. “It’s not even so much the counseling as feeling a part of a community.”

Although the NU group may not bring about immediate change, every affected student matters, Morales said.

“AA will only reach a few students, but it helps to change the culture as other people realize this is a serious issue,” she said. “It has a larger impact than just them.”

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