My wife, Kent, answered the call from an unknown number late on a Sunday evening. Within minutes, she was deep in mother-to-mother conversation with someone she did not previously know, sharing tears and empathy.
Publicity surrounding the opening of the William Magee Center for Wellness Education at the University of Mississippi late last year gave the mother the idea to reach out. The center, named after our late son who died of an accidental overdose, focuses on alcohol and other drugs (AOD) education and support. My wife and I joined other caring university stakeholders in a grassroots movement to establish the center in hopes of changing and improving, if not saving, lives.
Our son William was a student-athlete, Honors College student and alumnus who succumbed to addiction after using substances to cope with anxiety. He died soon after graduation, and we dream of others getting help and support before it is too late.
“I hoped you might have some insight,” the mother told my wife in a soft voice, muddled by tears. She explained that her son, an upperclassman, was suffering from depression and substance use disorder. He is scared, she said. She and her husband are afraid, she said.
Kent listened with a mother’s compassion for almost an hour. Then, she reached out to Erin Cromeans, the assistant director for Wellness Education on campus, making a referral for the student.
At 8 a.m. the next morning, multiple steps were underway led by the Magee Center to provide in-depth support, including counseling and assessment, with academic coordination. By mid-morning, the student was fully involved in the process – relieved that help and hope were just a phone call away.
A week later, the student’s father reached out, sharing praise for the Magee Center’s work, including cross-functional coordination providing a one-stop solution.
“It was like the Mayo Clinic,” the father said, referring to the center’s comprehensive response.
Such praise was rewarding, but the result mattered most.
“Our son has work to do, but he is stabilized, hopeful and wants to change the course,” the father said. “We are so thankful.”
This story, and others of students benefiting from the center’s resources, illustrates why so many generous donors have joined us to invest in this initiative. It is about giving Ole Miss students care, support and holistic education that extends well beyond the classroom.
The Magee Center works with students across the UM campus to engage and teach new habits and solutions through AOD education and support. In its first semester of operation, the Magee Center had more than 9,000 face-to-face student engagements, including on-campus recovery meetings, presentations to student organizations, and First Year Experience classes regarding physical and mental wellness and alcohol and drug use and sexual health.