Ever since Cory Rosenkranz arrived at Ramapo in 1996 as the coordinator of substance abuse and prevention programs, she has been advocating for the school to start a recovery program with housing. Now, 27 years later, that dream is fully coming to fruition.
The Roadrunner Collegiate Recovery Program started in August 2019 after former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in 2015 requiring most four-year public colleges to offer recovery programs and housing to students. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, put a damper on the program’s plans to develop housing. While the program originally planned to acquire and renovate the college’s visiting scholars’ residence on Ramapo Valley Road, the project became too costly because of rising prices, Rosenkranz said.
Now, the program has found a home in the CPA Redwood building. The program has renovated half of the building, turning Redwood A into a community room, where recovering students, as well as the program’s allies and mentors, can utilize it as a safe space for meetings, studying or hanging out. The program also has twelve beds available in Redwood B, C and D.
Currently, the students who are a part of the program are all commuters. Only the community room is in use for now, but Rosenkranz has already heard interest from a few incoming transfer students for the fall.
“In all the years that I’ve been in this business, I don’t know anybody who has not had mental health issues, either from the start or triggered by their use.”
– Cory Rosenkranz
Seven total students have participated in the program thus far with successful results. Rosenkranz recalled the stories of the first two students to enter the program, who have since graduated. They started the program with barely 1.0 GPAs, which Rosenkranz said is not uncommon, but with the support of the program, they were able to get their GPAs to nearly 4.0 by the end of their college careers.
According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 24.4% of people ages 18-25 have a substance use disorder. Rosenkranz emphasized that substance use disorders directly correlate with mental health, making recovery more difficult.
“It’s a mental disease. The drugs go straight to the brain,” she said. “In all the years that I’ve been in this business, I don’t know anybody who has not had mental health issues, either from the start or triggered by their use.”
She mentioned that most people with substance use disorders start using between the ages of 10 and 14, so by the time they are college-aged, they forget what life without substances is like. “It’s a world they haven’t experienced ever,” she said.
This is why Rosenkranz believes recovery programs are vital to ensuring student success on college campuses. Not only does the program support students to improve their physical, mental, emotional and financial health, amongst their busy schedules full of classes, one or more jobs, athletics and other responsibilities, it also works to educate the campus through its Recovery Allies Fusion (RAF) programs about the realities of substance use disorders.
“It’s real hard for people to fathom that we have students with substance use problems,” Rosenkranz said. “So, we do a double education, educating staff and faculty as well as students because people have this image in their head of what somebody with a substance use problem looks like.”
The RAF program includes allies – students, faculty, staff or alumni who have never used substances – and mentors – people who are at least two years in recovery. The main goal of the RAF program is to create a group to defy stigma and support recovery students.
As for the future, Rosenkranz has a number of ideas for how to improve and expand the program, many of which were in the works prior to the pandemic but were forced to be put on pause.
She hopes to host substance-free social events soon, one being a sober curious bar in Padovano Commons that will provide students with a night full of games, dancing, music and non-alcoholic drinks made from herbs that still look fun and taste great. Another example is taking students to school sports games but with prior preparation about how to handle being in an environment typically associated with substance use.
The biggest shift in the program, though, is nixing the requirement that students must be sober for at least six months before joining, in favor of a harm reduction model. Rosenkranz hopes with this model, the program will attract, and therefore help, more students who are struggling. In the end, that’s what the program is all about.
“For those that can remember 10 to 14, you were a kid. You were playing. You had dreams,” she said. “Recovery is recovering those thoughts, those dreams and putting them into reality.”
There will be drop-in hours at CPA Redwood A on April 12 from 2-4 p.m. for anyone who is interested in seeing the housing facilities or learning more information.
Featured photo courtesy of Mason Murphy