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Spring 2011

The Passion to Prevent the Next Generation's Battle

by Danielle Dunn

Kitty Harris

Poised and professional in her office adorned with awards, Kitty Harris clearly knows a thing or two about setting goals and finding success. Harris has served as the director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery (CSAR) at Texas Tech University for the past 10 years, but she admits she nearly passed up the opportunity.

Responding to the Call

Upon graduating from the University of North Texas with a Master of Science, Harris pursued her education further at Texas Tech University, where she earned a doctorate from the College of Human Sciences. She began working almost immediately as a clinician in private practice and focused on dealing with young adolescents and teenagers with substance abuse problems, eating disorders and general family issues.

Harris said she worked as a clinician for 23 years when she was contacted to apply for the position as director of CSAR. Although she was hesitant to leave her private practice, Harris said she felt a calling to fill the position.

CSAR aims to provide an environment where students can receive help for their addictions while still pursuing an education. Twelve-step meetings are held daily in the center where students can discuss the struggles they face with peers who suffer from similar addictions. The twelve-step groups currently meeting on campus consist of: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), Alanon, Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA), and Families Anonymous (FA). The center also places emphasis on the academic success of its students through a peer tutorial program by using the strengths of some students to benefit the growth of others.

As of now the center has a 94 percent success rate in overcoming addiction. Also, students at the center have a cumulative grade point average of 3.33 and a graduation rate of 80 percent, both of which are higher than the university average. Drawing on Texas Tech's success, CSAR has been replicated nationally at more than 15 universities including Vanderbilt, University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and the University of Texas. Harris attributes the efficacy of the program to the simple fact that it works.

"Students come here needing a second chance at an education, a second chance at life, and we give them that in a very productive, healthy way," Harris said. "They graduate and go on to be responsible citizens, which is what our goal is for them."

CSAR has a 94 percent success rate in overcoming addiction. Drawing on this success, the center has been replicated by 15 other universities nationally.

CSAR has a 94 percent success rate in overcoming addiction. Drawing on this success, the center has been replicated by 15 other universities nationally.


Watch on YouTube

Kitty Harris talks about the Texas Tech Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery, as well as her ability to blend her roles as teacher, administrator, researcher, and service provider as an Integrated Scholar.

Read her Integrated Scholar Profile here.

Harris Image Courtesy Neal Hinkle, TTUHSC.
Video produced by Scott Irbeck, Office of Communications & Marketing.

Finding the Answer

To pinpoint exactly why collegiate recovery communities are effective, Harris is in collaboration with universities across the country to create a national database. The database, which is housed at Texas Tech, contains information from students who are part of various collegiate recovery communities throughout the nation. Harris said the students are asked questions regarding the history of their substance abuse, the types of interventions attempted by friends and family members, and whether or not treatment was previously sought.

CSAR has only a 6 percent relapse rate of its students while they are actively involved with the program, which is much lower than the average national relapse rate of 50 percent. The data collected for the national database will help answer why collegiate recovery communities produce a higher success rate for recovery. Harris said there are a number of components that are unique to these communities, but one of the most important is the sense of camaraderie and belonging among students.

"They need peers who are not drinking or using drugs," Harris said. "They need peers who have found fun ways to have a good time chemically free. Although there is support in the community and on the outside of any university setting, the real true heart of being a college student is your peer group. The ability to access that on campus has been incredibly successful for so many students."

A Commitment to Service

In 2009, Texas Tech Provost Bob Smith named Harris one of 12 noteworthy integrated scholars. The integrated scholar connotation is one that is given to faculty members who are a "triple-threat" in the academic setting through their effective teaching, research and service to Texas Tech and the larger community. When asked what advice she would offer to new faculty members on campus, Harris said balance is key.

"Some semesters are going to be heavier on one thing than the other, but that's life," she said. "I think committing your heart to a real sense of servant leadership, where you believe that because you have been given much you have a lot to pass on, is really important. There's nothing more important in a university setting than for the community to know that you are also invested in them and not just in these few walls around here."

Harris' desire to serve Texas Tech is evident through her passion to help students overcome their addictions, but she also works diligently outside of the university setting to enrich the lives of youth in the South Plains community. Harris works closely with the Lubbock Independent School District in educating younger generations about ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and how to prevent the development of the addictions she encounters with some university students.

Harris has developed and worked on a staggering number of projects and committees that positively influence the younger population in Lubbock. Harris is a part of numerous community partnerships including United Future Leaders and the Covenant Mind and Body Initiative. She is president of the Young Women's Leadership Foundation Board and chairperson of the advisory council for the Talkington School for Young Women Leaders.

Harris said she believes that it is vital for Texas Tech to maintain its commitment to outreach and engagement in the community.

"I think as a university, our attitude is about what we are here to give back," Harris said. "I think you should approach service with that attitude – I'm learning a lot; I have the opportunity to share a lot; it's important for me to give back."

Danielle Dunn is an intern for the Office of the Vice President for Research. She is an undergraduate student in the College of Mass Communications at Texas Tech University.

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