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Conference focuses on link between diversity and drug abuse

Acting as a seeming counterbalance to the notorious debauchery of Spring Break, today's Seventh Annual Associate Students of Social Work Diversity Conference will be focused on the themes of alcohol and drug use-how the substances affect people of different genders, nationalities and backgrounds.

"We're looking at how alcohol and drug use affects people as individuals, but also taking into consideration different cultures and backgrounds," said Irene Ota, the program's coordinator.

"This year, we polled students and they wanted more information on alcohol and drug abuse [in a diversity perspective]," said Sarrina Coulam, director of professional and community education.

Some groups are more prone to or affected by alcohol and drug abuse, due to factors such as higher rates of poverty and different mechanisms of metabolism.

The differences exist between ages, sexes and backgrounds, Coulam said.

"It's not so much just a social work issue. It isn't long before a substance abuse issue will crop up [in anyone's lifetime]. It is a major problem in the United States and in Utah," Coulam said.

"[The purpose of the conference is to] create awareness that people are different as individuals. Although alcohol and drug abuse is universal, the treatment has to be different [for different cases]," Ota said. "No matter where you live, what church you go to, substance abuse is going to happen, no matter what age you are, how rich or how poor you are."

Coulam urged students to get educated about the problem.

"Here's an opportunity to learn for free," Ota said.

Previous themes for the conference included spirituality and issues of access to education and work opportunities.

"Seven years ago, students decided they wanted to put on an annual conference, and they chose diversity as the continuing theme,"

Coulam said that diverse populations are growing, and as a result, students and administrators alike need to be increasingly aware of diversity and social justice.

The program will feature a keynote speaker and a luncheon for this year's Pete Suazo Social Justice Awards.

"Three years ago, when we lost Sen. Pete Suazo, we started the Pete Suazo Social Justice Award," Coulam said.

"He was one of the few people of color that served in our Legislature, and this is an award in his honor that promotes social justice," Ota said.

This year's recipients of the award are Centro de la Familia de Utah, Ming Wang, Joyce Kelen, Mack Gift, Julio Espinoza and Brian Riedesel.