Graduating in May 2016 from UNCG with Disciplinary Honors in Sociology and a concentration in Criminology, Rachel Ryding is hoping to pursue a doctoral program in the Fall. Her research focus will be issues related to the stigmatization of mental illness and substance use disorders. A relevant topic since there is a lot of talk surrounding the criminal and social policies of how addiction and systematic inequalities are dealt with in different racial and class groups.

More importantly a relevant topic because Ryding herself is an individual in long-term recovery. Ryding was 19 when she got sober, and she has not used alcohol or drugs since April 2011. Growing up, Ryding was a good student and a good kid, never getting into any trouble. Once she started drinking with friends in high school, something changed inside her.

“Over the next few years I started partying more and more and caring about my friends, family, and school less and less. Once I got to college I started having panic attacks all the time, stopped going to class, got really depressed, and eventually started seeking counseling. It was the scariest experience of my life. I literally stopped caring if I lived or died.”

With her own personal journey Ryding is influenced daily by her story and the stories of others.

“I don’t want any student to have to experience what I did. People who struggle with substance use disorders are not inherently criminal and don’t deserve to be treated as such by society. We can’t expect people to recover and become assets to their communities if we subject them to shame and stigmatization along the way.”

Ryding holds herself in the most humbling of ways, talking about the vast recovery process, having a recovery community, along with the importance of self-care and the care of others. There a sense of clarity and drive in Ryding’s eyes when she speaks about the issues she is passionate about. It is clear Ryding is on a path of making a change in our society and she does not seem to be slowing anytime soon. !