Whitetop and Rogers residence halls are seen in the Aquia neighborhood are seen at the Fairfax campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn/Creative Services/George Mason University

Mason Substance Abuse Recovery Housing: A Chance for “Innovation”

By Kaelyn Vitale, Internal Communications, Roosevelt at Mason

Since 2015, opioids have killed more people than car crashes or gun violence in Virginia, according to a report by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Republican Delegate Jason Mirayes introduced a rather progressive bill proposing a way to combat opioid exposure and usage. HB 1447 requires public universities with a minimum of 25 percent on-campus undergraduate students to:

“provide a supportive substance-free dormitory environment that recognizes the unique risks and challenges that recovering students face.” 

While the bill, should it pass, does not require schools to comply until 2021, Mason should work to open such a dormitory in the immediate future.

From an academic standpoint, students who abuse alcohol and drugs have a higher dropout rate and lower grades. Creating a space where students can limit their exposure with students of similar experiences will ensure their own academic integrity, thereby raising that of the Mason community.

From a monetary view, such housing would not be an additional cost to the community since student housing is revenue generated by those who elect to live on campus.

Providing housing for college students in recovery isn’t admitting that Mason has a problem, it’s recognizing that our nation has a problem and Mason is forward-thinking enough to address it,” said Ginny Lovitt, Executive Director of The Chris Atwood Foundation, a nonprofit that helped start the Patriots for Recovery community at Mason.

Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC) and  Patriots for Recovery would be key allies in this proposal. Stakeholders include Mason Housing, Mason Police, and University Life as well as the entire Mason community of students and families.

A supportive community is key to a person in recovery.  A safe space would positively contribute to the lives of students in recovery and SSAC looks forward to working alongside students on what that can look like at Mason,” said Kathryn Walker, the Assistant Director of SSAC.

However, salaries will need to be paid for licenses, professional counselors, and other training services and materials. Outside funds like Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and Association of Recovery in Higher Education could be one way to defray such costs, if the Mason Community does not want to support the initiative through its own wallet. 

A housing community dedicated to recovering substance abusers, for the time being, could follow a similar setup to the various Mason LLC’s currently centered in the Commons.

Ideally, following the West Campus expansion where the new housing district, Innovation, will be “linked to wellness,” the program could have a hall that is uniquely designed to address challenges these students may face.

Virginia schools are no stranger to such programing. University of Virginia offers Virginia Hoos in Recovery, Washingtonian Recovery Community began in 2014 at Washington and Lee University, and Virginia Commonwealth University is expanding their Recovery Clubhouse from a study/hang out area to a living space.

Twelve institutions are estimated to meet the qualification of having 25 percent of undergraduate students living on campus laid out in HB 1447, including Mason.

Open communication with Washington and Lee University and University of Virginia would help staff plan how to create and maintain such a program and recruit participants.

Mason prides itself on innovation. Innovation shouldn’t wait for a law to pass to start thinking about how it can better help its students and state. 


A message from the Student Support and Advocacy Center

Alongside students, SSAC’s goal is to continue to build a collegiate recovery community – a fun, safe and supportive college experience for students in recovery – through raising awareness, providing support and building relationships.  SSAC understands that a supportive community is essential to recovery.  We aim to help connect students in recovery from a substance use disorder to resources and one another.

SSAC received a grant from Transforming Youth Recovery (TYR), a Nevada-based non-profit, which helped us launch our recovery initiative. With that grant, SSAC began building relationships, offering support and raising awareness about the beauty of recovery and the hurdles that students in recovery can face on a college campus.

Patriots for Recovery (formerly ARMS) meetings are open to Mason students who are in recovery from a substance use disorder, support recovery, or want to know more about recovery.  Meetings are every first and third Thursday of the month at 3:00pm in SSAC (SUB I, 3200).

SSAC would love to hear from you about how the Mason Nation can support students in recovery. To learn more about recovery at Mason, please visit ssac.gmu.edu/recovery.


House Bill 1447 proposed by Delegate Jason Mirayes (R) 

“By July 1, 2021, each baccalaureate public institution of higher education at which at least 25 percent of the undergraduate student population lives in on-campus housing shall establish a substance abuse recovery housing program.

Such program shall “provide a supportive substance-free dormitory environment that recognizes the unique risks and challenges that recovering students face. The program shall provide support services, including on-site counseling, mentoring, peer support, and other appropriate services.”

Participating institutions may designate a floor, wing, or other designated area within a dormitory building for the substance abuse recovery housing program and shall not be required to designate an entire dormitory building for the program.”


Photo Courtesy of Alexis Glenn/Creative Services