Counseling services is introducing new peer educators next year in a move to increase student participation and the impact of workshops and other mental health events.
“There’s so much research [on] the fact that students talking to students about stuff has more of an impact than me coming in and talking to students about it,” Director of Counseling Services Janell McGruder said. “… Just knowing somebody who is in the same position as you can actually articulate and communicate what is going on is received better.”
The new position will give counseling services a better way to help students navigate some of the mental and emotional difficulties that come with college life. McGruder emphasized that the students would not be offering counseling but that having someone with similar experiences to talk to can be really beneficial for students.
“Peer-to-peer education is very important,” McGruder said. “And it’s one of the foundations for what we try to do in outreach. This is just a more effective way of doing it.”
Currently counseling services has Fresh-Check Day in the fall as one event with peer-to-peer outreach, but the peer educators will allow the office to do more.
One role they might take on includes running private workshops for clubs or other campus groups that request it. Over the summer, counseling services will be developing a curriculum for their peer educators. The number for the first year is still uncertain but applications were due on Feb. 4.
During their first year, counseling services peer educators will be helping establish their system for the future, says McGruder. The Center for Intercultural Life peer educators are already providing input on their role.
“A really big chunk of the job right now, because it’s so new, is a lot of training and facilitation for that future dialogue work,” junior and CIL peer educator Yasmine Davila said.
Davila got involved with the CIL and peer education through her work on MSAC. This is the first year the CIL has peer educators.
Junior Misha Gondal is a CIL peer educator who was also an RA last year. She said she would have appreciated having the outside perspective peer educators can bring to problems as a resource for her suite last year.
“When first-year students come in, obviously they come in with their backgrounds and their own ideologies, there’s bound to be clashes [that] come up in the suite,” Gondal said. “As an RA you can facilitate that … but sometimes you’re like ‘I need someone else from an outside perspective to come in and facilitate this.’”
Gondal also took the 200-level dialogue course last spring, an experience she said was totally new to her given her background as an international student from Pakistan.
“For me personally … [counseling services] holds significance in the sense that counseling services has always been a conflict for me and I feel for the other international students,” she said. “… Counseling itself is a very unique, new thing for us because there’s stigma to mental health back home.”
Gondal hopes then that international students will apply to be peer educators for counseling services to help address the unique problems they face from a mental health standpoint. It would also increase the visibility of counseling services among international students.
For Davila, a major motivation for getting involved was to increase outreach about the diversity on campus, especially in terms of having a student body that is more diverse than the faculty or administration.
“I think that the CIL peer educators, this new position, in the future can just kind of act as kinda that outreach because there is so much diversity … demographically on campus,” Davila said.
McGruder said she already has more requests for workshops than she can handle, so she plans to have students hold several workshops in the future, whether it be for classes, suites or clubs on campus.
“We do a lot with outreach, I think, in general, but we can always do more,” she said. “And so for us, it’s really about staying up to date with whatever’s out there, what we feel will benefit our students.”