Section: Editorial

Staff editorial: Distance demonstrates need for peer support

On Wednesday night, April 22, the Student Council Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) sent out an email to the student body expressing its members’ availability for peer-to-peer support. We commend the CDI, as well as the Sexual Respect Peer Alliance (SRPA), for their ingenuity in offering peer-to-peer support services during distance learning. The ways in which they are lending a hand illustrate the value of such student-led methods of support.

The 12-member CDI states, “We are extending our support to our fellow peers, while particularly staying attuned to the burdens this pandemic has put on the under-served students in our communities. Our support can be as simple as hearing your concerns, or as complex as advocating for your needs.”

The CDI adds that it is not offering itself as a replacement for any of the College’s services, but rather as a supportive and listening ear or, if needed, an advocate. They offer help directing students to the right College office for help, as well as helping put issues on the College’s radar that it may not have anticipated.

On Friday, April 17, SRPA sent out an email much to the same effect, soliciting artwork for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and prefaced the message by saying, “Please remember that SRPA is always here to offer support if you need someone to talk to.”

Since the College announced a suspension of on-campus activities, SRPA’s Instagram feed has seen a flurry of activity. From uplifting notes to introductions of new supporters in training, SRPA has shown students a kind, welcoming face even from a distance. More importantly, their latest posts have delivered valuable information about navigating Title IX remotely and seeking support for sexual assault.

With students spread across the world and in many different home situations, it is more important than ever that peer support groups extend a helping hand. SRPA and the CDI have lived out their respective mandates to emphasize that they are available for their fellow students.

The elephant in the room when peer support groups do something good, though, is the College’s administration. Peer support groups work best when they are institutionally backed. SRPA was formed in October of 2018, primarily from former Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs). The SMAs and Peer Counselors, as upperclassmen can all recall, were decimated in spring 2018 for matters of liability, both losing their confidentiality and hotlines.

Even though peers cannot replace counselors or therapists, they can, as the CDI and SRPA are demonstrating, provide valuable and necessary support. It is a shame that for many reasons, peer-to-peer support must be offered outside of these institutional frameworks. It would be very valuable for student conduits and advocates working with Health and Counseling to be able to offer the same kindness and support to the student body during this time, helping individual students navigate the resources available to them and advocating for new resources where gaps emerge.

The initiative that the CDI and SRPA are taking to be there for their fellow students is a testament to the care and compassion that characterizes the Kenyon student body. This is an invaluable resource and the reason why we all miss being on campus so much. Going forward, as we endure the pandemic and look to an eventual resumption of on-campus life, the College should take note of the value of peer-to-peer support.

The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Becca Foley ’20 and  Adam Schwager ’20 and executive director Tommy Johnson ’20. You can contact them at foley1@kenyon.edu, schwager1@kenyon.edu and johnson1@kenyon.edu, respectively.

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