SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — For the past year and a half, Peer Helpers — real students, real people, real listeners — have been providing Wittenberg University students with support and assistance.
With more than 20 students who listen and talk to other students about various aspects of college life, the organization has helped students work through such topics as relationships, school, stress, racial issues or a parents' divorce.
The student assistant for Peer Helpers, senior Rachel Meier of Bluffton, Ind., class of 2006, explained that Peer Helpers are not counselors, but rather responsive listeners who help students through one-on-one conversations.
"We don't give advice," Meier said. "We discuss options and try to get [students] to think through their problems."
The organization's mission statement quotes psychologist Elton Mayo, "One friend, one person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider our problems, can change our whole outlook on the world."
The purpose of the organization is to continue to make Wittenberg a safe, healthy and encouraging environment for those who are a part of it, Meier said.
"We hope that campus as a whole [continues to be] a welcoming place, where students can learn and grow comfortably and know they are accepted," she said.
Bob White, the director of Peer Helpers, notes that the organization formed when a task force was brought together to discuss how the concept of Peer Helpers could be implemented into the Wittenberg community. White, who is also the director of church relations, said Peer Helpers was developed because students often turn to their friends about topics they may not feel comfortable discussing with a professor or a counselor.
White explained that Peer Helpers are "gracefully intrusive" when helping students deal with sensitive subjects. They also encourage them to take the next step in dealing with an issue.
Peer Helpers are expected to abide by the code of ethics the organization sets forth, and both White and Meier agree the student's privacy is critical. The confidentiality policy is strict, and White said names are only mentioned under three circumstances: if the person is being harmed, if the person is a threat to harming him/herself, or if the person is a threat to harming another. Other than those instances, confidentiality is essential, according to White.
In naming a Peer Helper, White said he looks for students who are encouraging, empathic, have good listening skills and are respectful and open to differences. Students selected to become a Peer Helper participate in a three-day training session.
"It's very intense," Meier said of the 10 two-hour sessions required of all Peer Helpers, which teach listening and questioning skills. She also explained they learn about the decision-making model, which is used to help students thoroughly think through situations. The idea is to help students envision a solution on their own terms.
Though the organization has only been on the Wittenberg campus since early 2004, White and Meier said they would like to find a way to make Peer Helpers more recognized throughout campus.
"Right now we are a word-of-mouth organization," Meier said. "It will take time to get our name out there."
White thinks the program has been beneficial since it was brought to campus, noting that there were more than 2,000 Peer Helper conversations last year.
Those currently serving as Peer Helpers represent all areas of campus life, including athletics, Greek life, psychology, science, management, religion, music and art.
"Our goal is to be as diverse as our campus," White said.
New Peer Helpers are selected and trained each year. Typically students are recommended by faculty, staff and students. Those nominated are sent an application and interviewed.
Next semester the organization will introduce 13 new Peer Helpers: Rachel Allan of Toledo, Ohio; Sarah Grabenstatter of Columbus, Ohio; and Becca Jenzen of Grosse Pointe, Mich., class of 2006; Ashley Gerace of Dublin, Ohio; and Colleen Keppel of Tipp City, Ohio, class of 2007; Amy Meige of Columbus, Ohio; David Mowrey of Indianapolis, Ind.; Emily Heidrich of Westchester, Ohio; Jessica Baldridge of Covington, Ky.; Leigh Malach of Loveland, Ohio; Nick Green of Portage, Mich.; Sarah Kennedy of Cincinnati, Ohio; and Kate Longtin of Edgewood, Ky., class of 2008.
Send a Message
• Book-Delivering Prof Named Ohio Professor of the Year
• Senior Class Selects Livestrong President & CEO Doug Ulman As 2011 Commencement Speaker
•Communication Program Honored Nationally With Top Award
• Wittenberg University Art Students Finalists For Scholarship Award