The Peer Health Program aims to improve health and wellness on campus through interventions and education from a peer perspective. There are currently 40 members of the Peer Health team, each representing a first-year dorm floor. This will look entirely different next year. Peer Health will be replaced by ten Peer Health student educators, each assigned to multiple residential spaces.
Director of Gender Violence Prevention & Health Education Rachel Reinke assumed her current position last year and worked with Peer Health leaders to evaluate the current role of the organization.
“While the work that Peer Health was doing was a lot of really fun and maybe awareness-raising or stigma-fighting work, there wasn’t a whole lot of education that was happening,” Reinke said. “There have been lots of different supervisors of Peer Health—people who have lots of different investment levels in Peer Health.”
Peer Health Leadership Committee (PHLC) member Evan Bay ’23 discussed the program’s many changes throughout his time as a mentor. He expects that the new system will improve Peer Health in the future.
Bay explained that during his first two years as a mentor, it was difficult for the organization to manage both first-year and campus-wide mental health programming. In response, this year’s program assigned members to different committees focusing on health topics such as alcohol and other drugs, sexual health relations and peer support in addition to their positions as mentors on first-year floors. While Bay noted that the new system was more effective, it lost Peer Health’s original focus on first-year bricks.
“What was really distinct about Peer Health was having first year engagement and being able to help provide resources and other education to first-years. So we’re trying to go back to the practical education programs and early interventions to return to our original Peer Health mission, which is to reduce harm as much as we can,” Bay said.
PHLC member Izzy Miller ’23 acknowledged that this pre-pandemic model failed to adapt well to the College’s post-Covid-19 environment.
“The floor model is probably the biggest thing that I think maybe worked really well pre-Covid and hasn’t really worked in my experience as a peer mentor [post-Covid]. It’s really difficult to connect with a group of students that already have ResLife, and it’s hard to fit in seamlessly with the floor community,” Miller said.
ResLife has taken up the initiative of providing health education floor by floor.
“Because [ResLife staff] do so many direct support programs, there really wasn’t a good place for Peer Health to kind of step into the floor model,” Reinke said. “These peer educators will be specifically doing sexual education, alcohol and other drug education and gender violence prevention in the first-year bricks, in the college houses, in athletics and through campus health literacy.”
With the floor model open to individual interpretation of the Peer Health mentors under the current model, there was a wide variety of engagement across first-year floors. The new system, with ten dedicated Peer Health educators, aims to improve relationships with the first-year bricks and provide outreach and education that was not possible before.
One of the most notable changes in the Peer Health Program is that the peer health educators will be paid representatives of the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Health Education. This change will reflect the increasing responsibility that students will take on as health educators and the integrative health training they will receive.
“I want to think more holistically about health and give students more opportunities to learn how to be educators. I’m excited about the Office being able to have a little bit more capacity for doing some really good education,” Reinke said.
Miller said that conversations about paying Peer Health mentors have been ongoing since she joined the organization during her sophomore year, and she is optimistic that the new paid position will allow students to get the most out of their experience.
“It is really hard to do the kind of work that we currently do in the kind of time that it requires. This health educator model is what I think Peer Health should be and what I always have wanted to get out of my experience from Peer Health,” Miller said.
However, the new health educator model also means that many of the people currently involved in Peer Health will no longer be able to be a part of the organization, a compromise that has both positives and negatives.
“I know how important getting into Peer Health was to me when I was a first year, and so I think it is sad that there just won’t be as many opportunities for people. That being said, I think the smaller group will be a lot more effective in getting what it needs to get done,” Miller said.
Peer Health will hold its annual Sex Fest on May 5, and applications for the Peer Health educator positions will be released in the upcoming weeks.