Embodying the true spirit of difference-making

By

Amanda Stoneman

Driven by a passion to educate people about alcoholism and recovery, Arizona State University professor Linda Lederman aims to make a difference in the lives of many by fighting the stigma of weakness and lack of willpower.

“My work is designed to change the narrative,” said Lederman, a communication scholar who studies health issues. “To get people to understand that alcoholism is a deadly disease, for which there is no cure — but it can be put into daily remission.”

Lederman (left) has been selected to receive the 2016 Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award presented by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The annual award was established through generous contributions of faculty, staff and friends of ASU to honor a faculty member who personifies the spirit of difference-making as demonstrated by Krahenbuhl, a former dean of the college.

“Dr. Lederman’s scholarship, service and teaching are seamlessly connected to the health and well-being of the broader ASU community,” wrote Cameron Thies and Mary Margaret Fonow, two distinguished professors and school directors who nominated Lederman for this prestigious award.

A professor and director of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Lederman is nationally recognized for her use-inspired research on alcohol-abuse prevention, alcoholism and collegiate recovery, which has been funded by grants from federal agencies totaling more than $8 million. Her books include “Changing the Culture of College Drinking” and “Voices of Recovery from the Campus,” a collection of stories from people who began their recovery while undergraduate students.

Prior to joining ASU in 2006, Lederman was a professor of communication at Rutgers University, a faculty member of Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies and the founding co-director of the Center for Communication and Health Issues, which focused on uncovering the role of communication in alcohol use and abuse.

“Narrative and stories often bridge the ways in which we think about things,” said Lederman. “So I’m trying to destigmatize alcoholism and recovery on the college campus by changing the story. Putting a face on it, a real face, by sharing real stories of people in recovery.”

Her work focuses on changing two narratives: the culture of college drinking and the negative stereotype associated with alcoholics. The dominant narratives — everybody drinks in college and alcoholics lack willpower — are misrepresentations of reality, said Lederman.

“Narrative and stories often bridge the ways in which we think about things. So I’m trying to destigmatize alcoholism and recovery on the college campus by changing the story. Putting a face on it, a real face, by sharing real stories of people in recovery.”
— ASU professor Linda Lederman

Lederman has designed an undergraduate course, “Communication, Alcoholism and Recovery,” to educate students on alcoholism as a disease and to show how communication can help people understand and recover from the disease.

“I teach the course in a way that encourages students to become messengers,” said Lederman. “By engaging in what people do, talking to one another, they can help other people re-examine their own misperceptions about alcoholism and recovery.”

Lederman has also created the DYK10? (Do You Know 10?) campaign with her students from this course, which will launch in the fall. The campaign is designed to inform students that 1 in 10 people who drink have alcoholism and need help (if they continue to drink) or support (if they are in recovery).

She will present at a national conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in August, so health educators can use her campaign as a tool for prevention and alcohol awareness on college campuses.

“Through education and intervention, her work has inspired recovery professionals to action on behalf of our students,” said Lederman’s nominators for the difference maker award. “She is one of the most active and innovative people on our campus.”

Lederman’s impact extends beyond the ASU community. She was invited to give a colloquium about her work on alcoholism and collegiate recovery at the University of Arizona Department of Communication earlier this year. In addition, the Empty Space Theatre presented a performance titled “Recovery,” based on her books and journal articles about communication, alcoholism and recovery. She also was invited back to Rutgers University to be a speaker at the Rutgers Recovery Graduation earlier this month.

“I am honored to have received this award,” said Lederman. “There is nothing I can think of that would mean more to me than winning an award as a difference maker because my life and work are dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives.”

Top photo by Diego Lopez