A new college project that encourages open conversation about alcohol and drug use has generated significant interest and has put Algonquin at the forefront of supporting students.
The AC Umbrella Project is a two-year, province-funded project being largely managed by college harm reduction specialists, Polly Leonard, who is the project manager, and Amanda Neilson, who is a consultant.
“Most colleges and universities only have programs that speak to the issue of alcohol use and they are just starting to branch in to drug use,” said Leonard. “We’re really being quite innovative by talking about the student realities of what’s happening now.”
The project, now in its third month of operation, has been working diligently to raise awareness about substance use on Algonquin’s campuses.
“Our main goal is to open up the conversation about substance use on campus and when I say substance I mean both drugs and alcohol,” said Neilson. “We’ve focused on taking a harm reduction approach with this project and the response has been fantastic.”
Harm reduction aims to reduce the negative effects associated with drug and alcohol use by embracing a non-judgemental environment where students can openly talk about what issues they’re facing.
“Harm reduction is meant to decrease immediate consequences such as losing a wallet all the way to things such as driving under the influence,” said Neilson.
And Leonard says that they’ve been able to reach out to students through several events on campus.
“We had booths at orientation, the campus village, the volunteer job fair,” said Leonard. “We’ve also been present at events such as the paint party.”
Leonard also said that the project incorporates First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives on substance use, and is working with the Mamidosewin Centre as well as Wabano and Tungasuvvingat Inuit Centre. Training sessions focused on cultural competency, including history and communication style, will be provided in January 2016.
As this project is aimed at three campuses, Neilson and Leonard are also working closely with Perth and Pembroke staff.
According to Leonard, there is an enthusiasm among staff to be involved and everyone is bringing resources together to make this project happen.
“This is not just a student services project, this is an Algonquin College project,” said Leonard.