A group of Miami students, including student body president Meaghan Murtagh, are leading an effort to form the Miami Initiative Team (MIT), which will work in collaboration with high school and middle school students to mentor younger people and be an advocate on campus regarding mental health, drug use and the denormalization of binge drinking.

A version of MIT already exists at Talawanda High School. The Youth Initiative Team (YIT) has been in place since 2000. The group plans a variety of events throughout the year, such as movie nights following football games and “Sticker Shock,” a campaign of sorts during prom and graduation season in which YIT members collaborate with local alcohol vendors to put stickers on products containing alcohol that warn of the consequences of providing alcohol to underage drinkers.

The Oxford Coalition for a Healthy Community, a group of representatives from all sectors of the Oxford community, funds and supports this initiative.

Coalition members Amy Macechko, the health and wellness coordinator for the Talawanda School District, and Rebecca Young, the director of the Miami Office of Student Wellness, received a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to fund the various levels of the initiative. The grant amounts to about $75,000 for the year, according to Macechko.

“The department is so excited about this work and this project because it’s a way to, really early on, get [self-regulation] embedded in our young people so that they can, when faced with choices later on in life, have the skills and [empowerment] to make healthy choices,” Macechko said.

Miami first-years Kendra Hall, a psychology major, and Katie Lockhart, a biology major, were members of YIT when they attended Talawanda High School and are founding members of MIT. Having both lived in Oxford for years, they have seen firsthand the effects growing up in a college town renowned for its heavy-drinking tendencies has on the youth of Oxford.

“It’s almost too easy for the high school students to get roped into it almost immediately because we see it every day, every weekend,” Hall said. “I think, from the time when we were in middle school to now, it’s definitely gotten worse.”

Lockhart did not move to Oxford until she was in sixth grade, but she feels she has seen enough to know that the normalization of excessive drinking is a real problem.

“We want to change that,” Lockhart said. “You don’t have to go out and drink when you get to college every single night. You don’t have to go out and party. There are people at Miami who don’t do that.”

The example the Miami students who party hard all week set for local kids may not necessarily be something they think much about, and the members of MIT think that collaborating with YIT would bring that issue to the forefront.

“There’s a large percentage of students from Talawanda that end up at Miami, and I believe that they are pretty much the key to start shifting the culture we have here and solve some issues,” Murtagh said.

MIT will mentor the younger YIT group members and the middle school version of the initiative as well. Those involved hope that students of all ages can learn from each other’s unique perspectives.

MIT is in its early stages and aims to bring more interested Miami students onto the team. Anyone who wishes to be involved in this program can do so by contacting Murtagh, Hall or Lockhart. Their emails are, respectively, murtagme@miamioh.edu, hallk19@miamioh.edu and lockhakm@miamioh.edu.