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UT eliminates substance abuse prevention position

By Lindsay Mahaney
On January 9, 2013

On Friday, Alexis Blavos was told her job would no longer exist.

This means UT no longer has an Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Prevention Specialist, a position Blavos held for just under three years. It follows the elimination of two other key positions in the division of student affairs this academic year.

The position won’t be officially eliminated until April 3, and Dean of Students Michele Martinez said other facets of the university are being reorganized to adjust.

“We do have this position until the beginning of April,” she said. “So it really is most of the semester and we’re going to be trying to figure out how to do things differently.”

Blavos’ job involves teaching students about alcohol and drug related issues, including holding presentations, planning substance-free events, collaborating with student organizations and overseeing substance-abuse protocols like of the medical amnesty policy.

“Presentations are really important… but think about the last time someone came in and did a presentation and then you walked out and said, ‘That doesn’t really apply to me,’” Blavos said. “When we implement policies like the medical amnesty policy, now we’ve given you an opportunity to say, ‘I’m scared but I want to help my friend, let me stand up and do something to make a difference.’”

Erica Hughes, a graduate student studying public health who worked for Blavos in student affairs, said the elimination of Blavos’ position is “a tragedy.”

“If you think of all the statistics and you think of everything, especially recently, that happened with all the violence and all the alcohol and drugs on campus, it is a very much needed position on campus,” Hughes said.

Martinez said even though people who work in student affairs are more visible to the students, the loss of any team member has an equal affect on student life.

“I think there are a lot of people here on campus for students, it’s not just the division of student affairs,” Martinez said. “It’s much broader than that. Students are touched by a lot of different areas.”

President Lloyd Jacobs said substance-abuse education can be delivered in different ways more cost-effective for the university.

“Everything speaks to the budget crunch,” Jacobs said. “We have been living in a detrimental budget situation for a decade. Everything we do is in the reflection of those budgetary changes.”

Jacobs said alcohol is a serious issue in universities that requires attention, and he is “deeply committed” to addressing it.

“There’s always pros and cons to any personnel change, any organizational change,” Jacobs said. “All I can say is that personnel changes in no way reflect a lessening of our commitment.”

Blavos, who said she works up to 60 hours a week, said the loss of her position could cause over half of her area’s current programs to be cut because “no one will be available to run them.”

With the loss earlier this year of Jeff Witt, former assistant dean of students, and Dale Pelz, former retention specialist, Blavos said the students could suffer from the lack of faculty.

“I’m disappointed that they’re taking this service away from students,” Blavos said. “In order to help students it has to be done the right way, otherwise it could potentially make things worse.”

Hughes said other positions at UT that are less beneficial to students should be cut before the positions from the student affairs.

“I think students will definitely lose some services as a result of this because you’re missing somebody that’s very student-centered,” said Hughes. “They need to look at the university as a whole as opposed to just cutting from student services because the university needs to be there for the students.”

According to Martinez, student affairs is developing a plan to provide alcohol and drug education to students.

“We’ll probably be using a peer education model,” Martinez said. “Peers will be educated to go and educate their other peers about these issues.”

Peer mentoring is a group of students who are taught how to educate their peers through activities like acting out scenes or leading large group discussions. According to Martinez, UT’s mentoring group will focus on the dangers of alcohol, drugs and sexual assault.

Kaye Patten Wallace, vice president for the student experience, said through a spokesman that the peer-mentoring group will work with the division of student affairs and the counseling center.

As for Blavos, she plans to finish getting a Ph.D. and wants students to know that she is “doing fine.”

“Sometimes things that happen you think are going to be bad, but they end up better for you,” Blavos said. “I’ve lived a lot of life. When I’m given bad news I know I’m going to be fine because I’ve had bad news before.”

News Editor Danielle Gamble contributed to this story.

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