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COVID peer support group appeals to broader campus community

April 30, 2021

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have called for the College to focus more on student wellness, both on and off campus. Peer Health feels it has the platform to meet student needs for health and wellness programming. Its recent program, the COVID-19 Peer Support group, is the first step in a plan to reimagine Peer Health’s role on campus.

“It was kind of hard to get [the peer support group] set up with all the upperclass [students] off campus,” said organizer Susu Gharib ’23 in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “So we decided to try it out this semester for COVID-19 because of the [shortened] spring break [and] how upset people were. It’s very obvious that everyone is struggling right now, and people need an outlet and someone to talk to, maybe vent to.”

Peer Health partnered with Counseling and Wellness Services to bring the support group to life. Along with coming up with questions and learning about confidentiality, Gharib and fellow organizer Alissa Chen ’22  participated in support group training with Sanja Gerskovic, the coordinator of group services at Counseling and Wellness Services. They learned that running a support group was not as easy as they had thought.

“I didn’t know how much goes into planning a support group,” Gharib said. “I thought you just showed up and talked in a circle, and that’s really not how it happens.”

Despite substantial planning, the support group initially didn’t have the turnout that Gharib and Chen would have liked. They said they weren’t surprised by the lack of support for the meetings, particularly given Zoom burnout.

“It’s hard to just be on Zoom all day for your classes and then be like, ‘Oh, I want to talk about my feelings with someone,’” Gharib said. “Like, ‘I’m struggling with COVID, let me hop on another Zoom call!’”

Peer Health plans to hold more new programming in the fall with an increased focus on appealing to the broader campus community. In the past, Peer Health has focused primarily on peer-to-peer engagement. With Assistant Director of Residential Education Celeste Hynes the staff liaison for the club, Peer Health’s initiatives will be taking a new direction. Gharib credits Hynes’ experience at Babson College, as well as her knowledge of Babson’s Peers on Wellness (POW) group, with drastically changing Peer Health’s organizational approach.

Peer Health plans to model itself after Babson’s programs, which included the POW student group that won the “Outstanding Peer Education Program” award at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) General Assembly meeting in 2019. With Babson’s POW group as a model, Gharib and Chen feel confident about the future of Peer Health on campus.

“I think also because we are going through these new changes of trying to not just be people who focus on peer to peers . . . that’s why we are still holding back.” Chen said in a Zoom interview with the Orient, “We have the desire to put more stuff out there for students on health.”

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