Peer support program launches

Confidential peer support volunteers aim to advocate for student survivors

written BY CHLOE SALVESOn, staff writer
Photo courtesy of @peersupportxu on Instagram
The six peer support volunteers as well as a graduate intern sit down and go through Title IX training materials.

The Title IX Office is piloting the new Peer Support Volunteer Program, consisting of six student volunteers and one graduate intern who will work to empower survivors of power-based, interpersonal violence. 

In order to cultivate a safe environment for survivors, the volunteers are confidential resources, meaning what is shared will stay between student survivors and peer support volunteers. 

The peer support volunteers stand in contrast to other support resources, such as RAs, who are mandated to report instances of sex discrimination.   

Planning for the program began before campus closed due to COVID-19. 

Susan Pelle worked alongside Kate Lawson, Title IX and interpersonal violence response coordinator, and Dr. Kyra Shahid, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, to organized  the program’s curriculum, policies, procedures and confidentiality release forms for the volunteers. 

“The volunteers’ main responsibility is to hold one-on-one confidential drop-in hours. They are trained to explain a lot of processes to student survivors, and they’re also trained in trauma-informed care,” Pelle said. 

Each volunteer must go through 24 total hours of training in order to be qualified to fulfill their duties. Senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public  major Teresa Simmons shared her most notable experience. 

“We watched a video that was all about the difference between sympathy and empathy. I feel like those are important topics when you are talking to survivors because… people just want to feel heard,” Simmons commented. 

Elaborating further, Pelle said, “We know most survivors, given the opportunity to disclose, they would prefer to talk to their peers, to their friends, to someone their own age.” 

Pelle ultimately hopes the volunteers can connect the survivors to her and further develop the support services at the university. 

Pelle expects to finalize the logistics regarding a possible Zoom link that students may access to talk with peer support volunteers in about two weeks. 

Pelle also looks forward to the possibility of implementing group sessions for those in need of uplifting. 

“If we find that survivors would like a space just to hang in a group, like a self-care space or a gathering space, we’re open to anything. We just need to know what survivors want and what would make them feel supported on campus,” Pelle said. 

Becoming a volunteer and dedicating time and energy to successfully fostering an atmosphere of compassion includes specific responsibilities. 

“(My role is) to be a supporter be an advocate, to listen, and to do way less talking than listening,” Simmons said. “I want them to feel heard. I want them to feel empowered. (I want to) validate them and just direct them to any resources or support they might need.”

“(The volunteers) know how to support that student. They know how to respond. They know how to validate, to believe and to really empower survivors by providing them with information and resources… They’ve already come into this work wanting to make change,” Pelle stated.

In-person drop-in hours begin this Monday in the Health United Building.