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Read SHIFT's Open Letter - Sign and Share in Support of Changing the Culture of Substance Use at UT

Culture change takes all of us. Will you be a part of it?

Dear Longhorns,

This past December, news rocked the 40 Acres that federal authorities charged a group of former UT students, as well as one current student, for their roles in a counterfeit drug trafficking ring. While the depth and breadth of these arrests hit us all in different ways, this story impacts and involves each and every one of us. Whether we live in West Campus or Riverside, hail from Texas, the east or west coast, or even overseas; whether you use drugs recreationally or not, we are all part of this community and culture, and this letter is our bold call to action to have a different dialogue when it comes to drugs, alcohol, and the student experience at UT.

In watching this story unfold, we are struck by what it reveals about us, all of us, and our responsibility to acknowledge that misuse of prescription drugs is an active, and normalized, part of many students’ lives. We know that this kind of drug misuse and trafficking is not confined to particular areas, populations, or circles. In reality, the pressures, temptations and struggles of substance use affect our community and in turn each and every one of us. At SHIFT, we aim to think more inclusively about what it means to be a college student at UT and about the role alcohol and drugs play in our everyday lives.

This ring didn’t just allegedly sell prescription drugs to students across Central Texas—they sold incredibly dangerous counterfeit pills, laced with more powerful and potentially deadly drugs like fentanyl. If you choose to use prescription drugs not prescribed to you, it is vitally important you stay as informed as possible to ensure you are using them as safely as possible. Learn as much as you can about the substance you are taking. If you’re using, make sure you’re with people you trust and have a plan for getting help, should you need it. You can obtain free Naloxone (anonymously) from the 40 Acres Pharmacy right on campus to be prepared in the case of an accidental opioid overdose. Understand that taking drugs not prescribed to you increases your risks of adverse reactions, not only because it is illegal, but because we each have unique chemical makeups and can’t predict how we’ll be affected. The SHIFT agenda celebrates that the freedom of making your own decisions is what the college experience is all about—but we embolden you to be more mindful about why and what you’re using

Culture change starts with our own action and reflection. It starts with us focusing on what we consider “cultural norms,” or behaviors we shrug off, saying “that’s just the way it’s always been.” It starts with not assuming that college life is synonymous with substance use-- that just because someone is getting good grades means there’s no way they could also be struggling behind the scenes. We have the collective power to make seismic shifts so that we are all represented in the “college experience.” That this experience is not defined or relegated to stereotypes and misperceptions.

Here are some more ways you can #jointheconversation and be a part of SHIFT:

  • Think about your personal boundaries and ways that you can speak to them—what does a healthy lifestyle look like for you?
  • Learn about harm reduction and safer use. Texas Harm Reduction Alliance has some great resources!
  • Speak up, have difficult conversations, express concern. Be an active bystander. Consider learning more with BeVocal.
  • Learn more about Operation Naloxone and the life-saving medication to overturn an opiate overdose. Also, take note of the free, national “Never Use Alone” hotline– 1-800-484-3731
  • Take a moment to reflect on how and/or why you might be using. If you are managing your stress or mood, consider other ways you might address those issues more safely and sustainably.
  • If you are feeling academic pressure to succeed, learn more about the myths and facts of prescription drugs.
  • Whatever decisions you make around substance use, be aware of your resources and make the decision that feels right for you.
  • Join the SHIFT Student Advisory Board and help shape the voice and actions of culture change.

Let’s hold each other accountable for the ways in which we support a positive environment, as well as inviting each other into the challenge of doing better. Below are the signatures of your peers, faculty, and staff members dedicated to SHIFTing our campus culture. Together with our campus and community partners, and most importantly you, our students, we can continue to reshape UT’s new normal—one centered around a culture of care.

Join our bold call to action: SHIFT the dialogue when it comes to drugs and life at UT. Culture change takes all of us. Will you be a part of it?


Kate Lower, SHIFT Director

Cayla Palmer, Communications and Program Coordinator

Brent Iverson, Faculty and Dean

Chris Brownson, AVP for Student Affairs, Director CMHC

Sarah Frey, Staff

Winston Chapman, Staff

Susan Hochman, Staff

Erin Benton, Student

Faith Nguyen, Student

Liz Elsen, Staff

Jude Quaddumi, Student

Presley Pargin, Student

Lori Holleran Steiker, Ph.D, Faculty & Associate Dean

Kevin Chen, Student

Marilyn Lionts, Student

Daisy Kielty, Student

Huy Le, Student

Larkin Kruse, Staff

Luis H. Zayas

Alexa Stuifbergen, Dean, School of Nursing

David Springer, Interim Dean and Professor

Bethany Wendler, Staff

Susan Buckenmeyer, Staff

Renee Acosta, Faculty and Associate Dean

Bitia Buenrostro, Administrative Associate

Mitch Jacobson, Staff

Abigail Aiken, Associate Professor

Sophie Schott, Student

Kenneth Greene, Associate Professor

Avery Arsenault, Student

Catherine Virola, Staff

Neha George, Student

Shilpa Rajagopal, Student

Taylor Simons, Staff

Jeffrey Mayo, Assistant Director

Brittany O'Malley, Assistant Director for Prevention; Chair, UT Wellness Network

Allen Hardin, Exec. Sr. Assoc. Athletics Director

Terry Weaver, Staff

Mandy Colbert, Staff

Kelsey Lammy, Staff

Michelle Cajero, Student Assistant

Sahtiya Hosoda Hammell, Bystander Intervention Program Coordinator

Divya Kashyap, Student

Antonio Rodriguez

Angelica R Montes, Student

Katie McCormick, Student

Usma Asif, Student

Vivian Nguyen, Student

Sam Poloyac, Dean

Lauren Mammen, Student

Patty Moran Micks, Assistant Dean

Thea Woodruff, Well-being in Learning Environments coordinator

Erich Geiger, Staff

William Schwartz, Assistant Dean Faculty Affairs & Professor

Brad Love, Faculty

Jacquelyn Howard, Student

Mark Zentner, Staff

Terrance Hines, Executive Director & Chief Medical Officer

Pauline Strong, Faculty

Katie McGee, Staff

SHIFT - SHIFTovation


Wondering how you might connect with SHIFT?
Well, howdy, partner! Email Kate Lower at,
or call (512)475-8437 to talk more about how you and your business might get involved.

Are you a student who is interested in joining the SHIFT Student Advisory Board? Email to learn more.