'People at Kent State do care, and they will help you'
When soon-to-be alumna Sabrina Scott graduates on May 9, the milestone won’t contain the traditional pomp, circumstance and walk across the stage she might have imagined when she started her Kent State journey in 2013. But the day will mark something much bigger: a journey of recovery, of beating the odds and of personal transformation.
During her six-year journey, Sabrina experienced multiple roadblocks that threatened to derail her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies: deaths of family members after struggles with addiction, addiction struggles of her own, several major changes, semesters off to care for loved ones and recovery. Yet thanks to a strong support system within the College of Communication and Information, and her continued perseverance, Sabrina now looks forward to using her degree to advocate for those battling the same issues she has faced.
“I have never felt like a number at Kent State. No matter what major I was in, I always had professors who looked out for me,” she says. “I never thought college would be like this whatsoever, but I’m so thankful for the support I’ve had along the way.”
On the surface, Sabrina’s first few semesters of college looked much like many other students’: She made great friends while working for TV2 and living in the residence halls. She switched her major for the first time. She spent a semester abroad. But underneath, her struggles with alcohol were beginning, and they accelerated when her stepfather died of a heroin overdose during her sophomore year.
“When I used to drink, I drank for an escape from reality and to cope with the trauma and the depression that was going on inside,” she says. “That scared me.”
Her struggles compounded: On top of losing her stepfather, she found herself in a toxic relationship and friendships, adapting to another major change and taking a semester off to serve as a power of attorney for her father, who also struggled with addiction, as he was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition. All the while, being genetically predisposed to addiction, “the odds were against me,” she admits.
There were highs and lows, but eventually, Sabrina found herself in her first stint at St. Thomas’s psychiatric ward. That was followed by more hospital stays, and in 2018, she took an entire year off of college to recover at Edna House for Women, a long-term sober and recovery house in Cleveland.
“I always knew in the back of my head, that I needed more help, I just needed that pause,” Sabrina says.
While she was in recovery at Edna House, her father was hospitalized again, and this time he didn’t make it. Yet, Sabrina was able to be at his hospital bed to hold his hand as he died, and this moment gave her affirmation that she was on the right path with her recovery. Her father’s and stepfather’s death occurred the same day — four years apart — which was a spiritual sign for her.
“It showed me that I needed to stay sober,” she says, “and where my life could turn out if I didn’t stop.”
When it was time for Sabrina to return to Kent State after her year in recovery, she had a team of advocates behind her: Associate Professor Stephanie Smith, who had visited her at Edna House and frequently checked in with her; CCI Diversity Director AJ Leu, who helped her navigate financial and billing issues; her academic advisor Rachel Ruic, who helped her chart a path toward degree completion; instructor Lisa Davis, who mentored her and shared her grief over losing a parent; and Associate Professor Jon Secaur of the College of Arts and Sciences, who helped her through a science elective.
Their support was overwhelming.
“I was so scared that I had screwed up the rest of my future,” Sabrina says. “I started to think maybe I shouldn’t finish college, maybe I’m not cut out for this. I just felt so behind and that I really messed up. However, there’s people who were rooting for me, supporting me.
“That’s how I came to realize, that I think sometimes people are scared to take that extra step for help because it is vulnerable and it’s scary. … But people believe in you. They understand and they have compassion for that, and they will help you. I’m so thankful for that.”
Now sober for a year and a half, Sabrina hopes to use her communication studies degree to advocate for people struggling with opioid addiction. She’s always been passionate about helping others, and her personal struggles with addiction have made that desire even stronger.
“I want to use my experience to help other people,” she says. “I’ve always truly believed because my life has been so surrounded by alcoholism and addiction, I don’t think that was an accident. Through my experiences — going through that loss, being sober myself, seeing women at the Edna House, what they were going through — it made me see that’s my purpose.”
She would eventually like to earn her master’s degree and work with the United Nations or an NGO to advocate for refugees or for other social justice causes. She would also like to write a novel that would help others understand the disease of addiction.
Sabrina has two pieces of advice: don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be ashamed of your own journey.
“Life will continue to happen wherever you go. You’re going to lose a friend, maybe you’re going to lose a parent. You may realize you suffer from a mental illness or addiction. I didn’t think that would ever happen to me. I don’t want people to feel ashamed by that, like I did for a while. People at Kent State do care, and they will help you.”
Students in the College of Communication and Information who need support can contact CCI Diversity Director AJ Leu at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the CCI Diversity website.