It is often difficult for students to reach out for help concerning their physical, mental or sexual health. Embarrassment, or even fear, can sometimes get in the way. But the peer health educators on campus provide a more approachable means for students to get the assistance they need.
There are a total of five peer health educator groups on campus, including the Mental Health Educators (MHEs), Sexual Health Educators (SHEs) and Balance Health Educators (BHEs). There are also peer health educators involved in Sexual Assault Awareness For Everyone (SAAFE) as well as the Alcohol and Drug Education Peer Team (ADEPT), which formed this semester.
The MHEs serve as a liaison between students and the Stone Center. They are there to listen and, if needed, persuade students to make appointments with mental health professionals.
MHEs are trained by Robin Cook-Nobles, the director of counseling services at the Stone Center, but they are not professionals.
“I’m not a counselor or anything, I’m not licensed, I’m 19 years old. But I want to be as much of a resource as I can. We’re listeners,” explained Cromwell.
Cook-Nobles emphasizes active listening and cultural awareness in her training sessions.
“In my experience, the MHEs are all genuinely interested in helping their peers access mental health services. They are highly motivated and invested in having the knowledge and skills needed so that they can service their peers well,” said Cook-Nobles.
In the future, the MHEs plan to collaborate more with other peer health educators on campus.
“We want to work with [other peer health educators] because your mental health is so closely connected with your physical, sexual [and] emotional health,” said Cromwell. “Even though [the Stone Center] is on campus, it’s still scary to go all the way there and make an appointment. It’s distant both mentally and physically,” said Julia Cromwell ’20, MHE coordinator and vice president of Active Minds.
The MHEs take students’ privacy very seriously. However, if they sense that someone is likely to hurt themselves or others, they may notify the Stone Center. If the student’s needs are academic, they may also refer them to the Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center (PLTC) or the class deans.
The BHEs overlap with the MHEs in that they also focus on stress management. However, the BHEs also strongly emphasize physical health. Their areas of knowledge include nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress and resiliency.
Just as the MHEs have an advisor in the Stone Center, the BHEs also have an advisor from Health Services, Nancy Baden.
“The job of the BHE is to figure out what resources to give the student. We’re not experts in the field, but we know enough to help out with the situation. For example, Health Services has a sleep consult if you have issues sleeping,” said BHE President Maggie Mittleman ’18.
A few years ago, the BHEs started a #wellesleytreatyoself movement on social media to promote awareness of self care. This year, they plan to host a smoothie event where students can learn more about healthy lifestyles.
“It’s important to talk about having a balanced life in college, especially at Wellesley. It’s good to know strategies to combat stress,” said Mittleman.
While the BHEs focus on physical health, ADEPT’s goal is to provide education about substance use and give students strategies to combat problems they may have with certain substances.
Anna Ehrlich ’18 and Hannah Jacobs ’19 started the organization this semester after seeing a need for more awareness about Wellesley’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy and substance-related issues in general.
“We would like Wellesley to have a healthier relationship with alcohol and other drugs, and to decrease the stigma between professional staff and the student body regarding alcohol and other drug use,” said Jacobs and Ehrlich.
Recently, Jacobs and Ehrlich have been working with professional staff at Babson and Olin to host a 21st birthday party that encourages healthy drinking. They can also help if alcohol and drugs become problematic.
“We employ evidence-based strategies, including harm reduction, to reduce student substance use that endangers health, causes distress or gets in the way of healthy living,” said Jacobs and Ehrlich.
Like ADEPT, SAAFE is also closely connected to administration. SAAFE did not wish to comment, but its purpose is to support people who have been sexually assaulted and act as liaisons between students and administration.
Whereas SAAFE deals with concerns of sexual misconduct, the SHEs are there to answer questions about sexual health. Students may come with questions about sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy, gender and sexuality, contraception and relationships, to name a few topics. Like the BHEs and the MHEs, they also plan fun events related to health education—for example, the Sexual Health Carnival, which takes place every fall. At the carnival, students can play games, learn about sexual health and win prizes.
Rose Whitlock ’18, the president of the SHEs, said that at some point during their college career, students are bound to have questions related to sexual health. However, they may not feel comfortable asking their parents, peers or doctors.
“Many students arrive at Wellesley not having received adequate, accurate or inclusive sex ed. The SHEs want to help,” said Whitlock. “One of the SHEs once said ‘I want to do this for my high school self,’ and I think all of the SHEs can relate to that statement.”
Many of the peer health educators emphasized the fact that in their high schools, many of these topics were taboo. At Wellesley, however, they find that the conversation about mental, sexual and physical health starts with students.
“We want to hear what you have to say, that’s why we do this. We’re not going to get mad, we’re not going to get weirded out—we’re interested in your safety and your health,” said Cromwell.