City College attempts to initiate harm reduction in Isla Vista

MAC WALBY, Channels Staff

City College is aggressively attempting to tackle the issues of student life, and has appointed the Chair of the Alcohol and Drug Counseling Department Gordon Coburn as liaison for the college’s response to tragedies and overall outreach to the Isla Vista community.

Courtesy of SBCC, Gordon Coburn
Courtesy of SBCC, Gordon Coburn

Coburn has been the head of the Alcohol and Drug Counseling program at City College since getting the program accredited by the California Association for Alcohol/Drug Educators, a non-profit devoted to harm reduction on college campuses around California, Nevada, and Arizona.

“The question is, what can Santa Barbara City College do to improve the environment,” Coburn said during an interview Friday morning.

In the wake of the tragic shooting in May along with the Deltopia riots, the college has been trying to find a way to make an impact in a community full of City College students.

“Basically, it’s a housing situation,” said Coburn of the Isla Vista problems.

City College doesn’t have any form of official student housing, and because of the high demand for housing in the area, many students have been forced to move to Isla Vista when they would otherwise like to be closer to Santa Barbara. Tropicana Gardens is estimated to be housing around 500 of those students alone.

City College Student Trustee Nicholas Steil agrees. “We need to instill a sense of community,” said Steil.

Steil noted that because of the high turnover rates at the colleges and rentals, students who only come for a semester or two have a hard time caring about their community.

“When its not your neighborhood, you really don’t have pride in it,” Steil said. “So you don’t care when people are spray painting or burning couches in the road.”

One of the outreach attempts City College has been making is with the new “Safe Party” initiative. The College has printed up small fliers with safety tips on how to be safer while drinking and going out to parties.

The list includes things like eating a full meal before going out to drink, setting up a driver or cab before going to a party, and simple things like keeping a running count of the amount of alcohol intake. On the back of the flyers are some statistics that show the adverse effects partying can have on student performance as well including academic problems, suicide rates and alcohol and drug related crime rates.

In addition to trying to raise awareness and reduce harm, City College is thinking of setting up counseling in Isla Vista for students who may need it. Coburn doesn’t think it will be that easy, however.

“It’s not just putting up a storefront and saying ‘drug counseling,’” said Coburn. “There needs to be outreach.”

And this brings it all back to housing. Without direct access to the students, it is hard to make an impact in their lives and communities, especially when that community is ten miles away. Only a small number of community colleges in California have student-housing programs, but Santa Barbara isn’t one of them.

“We have to look and see if we can find more housing,” said Coburn. “If we can do that, we can get City College students out of Isla Vista.”