Concordia’s New Peer-Led Support Group for Students in Recovery: The RAWCC

By Wendy and Nelly, based on an interview with Rosie MacDonald, RAWCC Coordinator 


In the upcoming 2021 school year, Concordia’s downtown campus will welcome The Recovery and Wellness Community Centre (RAWCC), a peer-driven service that seeks to connect students affected by addiction with resources and each other. 


The idea for The RAWCC arose in 2019 when Michele Sandiford, the 2018-2019 Student Life Coordinator and a student in recovery herself, brought attention to the significant lack of services at Concordia for those facing addiction. In response, the CSU assembled a Task Force for Students in Recovery to conduct research on the efficacy of available forms of support and make recommendations based on the needs of Concordia students. 


In their published report, the task force stressed the limitations of on-campus mental health, counselling, and disability resources for students in recovery. Previously, students have reported long wait times to access Concordia’s Counselling Services,¹ and, while the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities provides academic accommodations, neither are able to offer long-term treatment or specialized services to serve the distinct needs of those struggling with addiction. A 2016 survey conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction revealed that 47% of respondents identified system-related barriers to treatment, including “long delays for treatment, a lack of professional help for mental health or emotional problems, cost of recovery services, a lack of programs or supports in their community.”²


Despite the high-risk that the stress and party culture of campus environments create for developing substance-use disorder, the stigma surrounding mental health within these spaces only enforces the divide between students and needed support. 


“The real struggles that students have are [kept] very private,” Rosie MacDonald, RAWCC Coordinator said. “[Students] don’t want to let [their] parents, teachers, administration know that [they’re] struggling with mental health or substance use disorder because there’s no room for that discussion.”


The RAWCC hopes to dismantle this culture of shame. The Centre operates by a harm reduction approach to substance use, an alternative to prohibition that aims to reduce negative drug-related consequences by informing people about the risks of substance use and connecting them with supplies/services that facilitate safer experiences with drugs. 


As a key principle of harm reduction is affirming the autonomy of individuals who use drugs rather than condemning them, the RAWCC sees the terms “recovery and wellness” not as a fixed, universal goal but a deeply personal intention for some, recovery may mean implementing changes for safer drug use, and for others, it might be total abstinence. The Community Centre hopes to provide a non-judgemental, low-barrier place where people can, in a way that works for them, reevaluate their relationship to substance use. 


“The most important thing, for me, at least, is making sure that the RAWCC is a place where people can go and not feel ashamed of their substance use—past or present,” Rosie said. “We don’t want anyone to feel that they “failed” by trying to be sober and relapsing. 


Rather than adopting the 12-Step model of typical recovery programs, the RAWCC hopes to simply allow people to get together, build connections with each other, and exchange experiences of their lives or recovery journeys. In a private, on-campus room, the recovery meetings will be facilitated by student volunteers trained in active listening, peer support, and conflict de-escalation. Throughout the year, participants will be able to attend skill building workshops and social events where they won’t feel pressured to drink or use, such as sober dance parties or cafes. 


The Centre’s peer-support model, recommended by the CSU task force’s report, works to centre people with lived-experience of substance use disorder as agents in their own pathways to wellness, allowing students to make decisions about their lives through collaborative rather than prescriptive support.³ Formed by people each at different points in their recovery, the relationships in peer-driven support communities are reciprocal: members gain hope by being able to recognize themselves in peer facilitators, while helping peers gives volunteer leaders validation for the challenges of their own recovery. 


The RAWCC’s arrival addresses the lack of support for students in recovery not only at Concordia but in campuses across Canada. While there are over 130 addiction support group programs across the U.S., The UBC Student Recovery Community, founded only two years ago in 2019, was the first to kickstart the movement in Canada. Awareness, however, is growing, with Concordia joining other Canadian campuses including the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary in implementing peer-support models.⁴


As each individual’s recovery methods are so distinct to their personal experiences, The RAWCC recognizes that it is unlikely that it will meet all the needs of students in recovery. 


“A lot of substance use comes from outward experiences and coping with trauma,” Rosie said. “And that’s going to keep happening as oppression and trauma keep happening. Addressing the real social determinants of health is the main, long-term goal.”


For students affected by addiction disorder, however, the RAWCC paves space and increases the visibility of their needs. It’s a beginning that the Centre hopes will fuel the development of on-campus recovery services at Concordia and across Canadian campuses.



  1. Ramnanan , Marissa, and Savanna Craig. “Concordia’s Mental Health Services: Little Diversity and Long Wait Times.” The Link, The Link Publication Society Inc. , 14 Sept. 2018, 
  1. McQuaid, Robyn, Aqsa Malik, Kate Moussouni, Natalie Baydack, Matthew Stargardter, and Marcus Morrisey. Life in Recovery from Addiction in Canada. Technical paper. Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and Addiction, 2017. p. 2.
  2. Campbell, Erin & Sandiford, Michèle. (March 2019). Addictions Peer Support Programs on University Campuses [PDF File]. Retrieved from 
  3. Nguyen, Alex. “College Students Are Fighting Addiction Hell during the Pandemic.” VICE, VICE Media Group, 14 May 2021,