Peer Counselors Will Help Students Help Themselves
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
Last semester, too many people I cared a lot about felt sad or anxious, alone and desperate. They weren’t getting the help they needed, and it seemed at the time like Kenyon was to blame. I’d spoken to a number of other people, many of whom felt the same way.
Then I talked to Patrick Gilligan, director of counseling services, and realized that this disconnect my friends were so acutely feeling wasn’t caused by the College alone. The Counseling Center is a wonderful place to find help, and only one part of Kenyon’s support system. Student groups like SMAs (Sexual Misconduct Advisors), Beer and Sex and DAs (Discrimination Advisors) work side-by-side with institutional resources like Academic Advising to provide any support the student body might need. Despite my previous notions, plenty of students do use these resources on a regular basis. What I was concerned about were the others — the numerous others — who wanted or needed such help but weren’t seeking it.
That’s when Patrick suggested a way to bridge that gap: Peer Counselors. Born from the collective brainpower of 20-some students and Patrick, Peer Counselors didn’t even have a name until summer started. But even as a fledgling idea, Peer Counselors was exciting to me because it was an alternative to anger; instead of being upset about the gap between students and support, I and many other like-minded students got to do something about it.
At the very end of the summer, 14 students signed on to help out and came to meetings in the midst of finals week. Four of them volunteered to be officers without knowing what that would entail, and found themselves contacting administrators and designing programming in July. Patrick and I applied for a grant, designed training and drafted so many Google Docs.
Peer Counselors is based on the concept that an enlightened community understands helplessness as a situation in which somebody needs help, as opposed to a sign of weakness or stupidity. Every member of an enlightened community is ready and able to help themselves and others, and the collective becomes a healthier place.
We’d also begun to figure out how Peer Counselors would accomplish this: by designing various programming and providing confidential help for students experiencing helplessness.
Most of the action is still to come. We’re just starting to figure things out as an organization. But what has happened during the first week back far exceeded our expectations. For one thing, there are now 33 peer counselors. Students heard about us through word-of-mouth and found me in Peirce, at the KAC and over email to tell me they wanted in.
I’ve talked to each member about why they joined, and while each answer was different, they can all be boiled down to the same principle: they too saw a gap between students and help, and wanted to bridge it.
And then there was training. Though confidentiality bars me from sharing any detail that gave depth to the experience, every peer counselor shared the skills and experiences they bring to the group. Among 33 people there were 33 different stories, but each of them was simultaneously heart-breaking and heartwarming — whether it was helping a friend through a rough patch or dealing with life long mental health issues, every student was wrestling with their own demons.
Being in a room with so many strangers who were both high-functioning and struggling was one of the most important experiences of my life. Suddenly, I stopped feeling alone. When I walk down Middle Path and everyone is smiling and laughing, it’s not because they’re all perfectly happy, it’s because that’s the face they show to the public. We all experience helplessness and we all struggle to find help, and in that way nobody is alone in their pain.
This new understanding of the world only makes me less angry and more determined to see Peer Counselors succeed as an organization. Being hurt is part of being human, and helplessness, which often results in pain, is wholly inevitable. Since every single member of the Kenyon community is affected by helplessness, all of us can benefit from a more enlightened community.
Tim Jurney is a sophomore international studies major and proud IPHS concentrator from Minneapolis. He is the student manager of the Peer Counselors. His email is email@example.com.