Asking for Help: Students Form Peer Counseling Service
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
Some of us have baggage, but we aren’t comfortable talking about it. But with Peer Counselors — the newest support group on campus — Tim Jurney ’15 and Director of Counseling Services Patrick Gilligan hope to get people talking.
“Our big goal is that at some point Kenyon can approach the status of an enlightened community where everybody understands that there’s nothing wrong with you if you need help,” Jurney said.
Jurney’s idea for Peer Counselors grew out of a desire to bring more students to the Counseling Center, which he felt was under-utilized. After subsequent research, however, Jurney discovered that 37 percent of Kenyon students went to the Counseling Center at least once last year. With this information, Jurney altered his initial plan.
“My original idea was kind of wrong — it was based in the assumption that the Counseling Center was somehow failing its students, because … I was only in contact with people who don’t [use the Counseling Center],” Jurney said. “Then it became about, ‘how do we help the Counseling Center?’”
After spending the summer exchanging phone calls and emails and writing a grant proposal for funding from the Ohio Program for Campus Safety and Mental Health, Jurney and Gilligan arrived at the conclusion that what Kenyon needed from a peer counseling group was first-year programming, all-campus programming and student-run small group counseling.
Like the Beer and Sex advisors, Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Discrimination Advisors, Peer Counselors will meet with first-year residence halls in order to “let kids know that it’s okay to ask for help,” Gilligan said. “It’s not only okay, but it’s wise.”
In addition to an emphasis on first-year programming, Jurney hopes there will be all-campus events throughout the year. One such event will be a “Mid-Winter Blues” festival to combat Ohio’s dreary winter months. The group also hopes to obtain permission for an anonymous email account to which students can send questions about meeting times and locations and to obtain other general information.
Ultimately, the Peer Counselors hope to address helplessness, which they believe is a common feeling among Kenyon students, and advise students on how to conquer it.
“Tim and I have been talking a lot about … what it means to feel helplessness,” Gilligan said. “That when people feel helpless it just means that you need some help. That’s all it means. But what we do as people is that when we feel helpless we feel stupid, we feel weak, we feel ashamed. As a result of those feelings, we don’t do what we need to do to get help.”
In order to best serve the student body, the Peer Counselors aim for 24/7 availability and a flexible understanding of what that accessibility will entail. They hope to raise awareness of the many resources the campus already offers and refer students to those services.
“All these other groups have their own territory on campus, and I think it’s natural for them to feel a little threatened by another student support system,” Jurney said.
“We just have to make it really clear as time goes on that we’re not there to encroach on their territory; we’re there to help people get to their territory.”
When Jurney and Gilligan created the program, they took a grassroots approach to attracting counselors. “We weren’t interviewing people,” Gilligan said. “We were just saying ‘Who wants to gather here and help with this idea?’”
Katie Moss ’15 was interested in getting involved because she liked the idea of an intermediary group dedicated to helping people get the support they need. “The biggest thing for me is there seems to be some stigma against going through a rough time,” Moss said, “or at least seeking help when you are. There’s nothing wrong with putting it out there.”
Citing his own familiarity with divorce, Will Quam ’14 was motivated to become a Peer Counselor to help others work through similar moments in their lives. “The idea of helping other people who are going through experiences like that and showing people that they’re not alone appealed to me,” Quam said.
Quam also said he hopes the group is able to make some mistakes in its first year in order to learn how to better serve the community.
Jurney’s biggest goal for the group is to maintain the enthusiasm they began with and to create a solid foothold in student life. “I think everyone’s sort of waiting for us to prove that we’re a real thing, because nobody wants to commit to something that’s going to fall apart in a week or two,” Jurney said.
As members of the student body themselves, Peer Counselors have a unique ability to identify with the concerns of their peers. Or, as Jurney puts it: “Every single human has baggage.”