SA passes bill for peer-to-peer support hotline

Sen. Omeed Firouzi, U-At-Large, who sponsored the bill, said other universities have seen positive results by housing similar student support services within current counseling structures. Jordan McDonald | Hatchet Photographer
Sen. Omeed Firouzi, U-At-Large, who sponsored the bill, said other universities have seen positive results by housing similar student support services within current counseling structures. Jordan McDonald | Hatchet Photographer

Students are one step closer to having a peer support hotline after the Student Association Senate passed a bill Monday in favor of a “Peer Support Program.”

The bill marks the first step in implementing a main tenet of President Nick Gumas’ platform to create a student-run support system that would supplement University Counseling Center services. With the Senate’s backing, Gumas said he will continue speaking with administrators to map out the system, but noted that the program could take two years to become a reality.

Students manning the phones would go through a semester-long training to answer calls during scheduled hotline hours. They would learn how to discuss issues prevalent on college campuses like suicide, body image and LGBT issues, Gumas said.

“Part of the peer support’s job will be to refer students to appropriate resources if necessary, but a lot of students just need to talk,” Gumas said. “Like, if you’ve had a stressful day, you feel like you’ve failed an exam, you got in a fight with your best friend and you’re just really frustrated and you just want to vent, that should be a resource available for students.”

Gumas stressed that the program is not meant to replace counseling services offered by the UCC, but rather would provide an anonymous outlet for students who want to chat about issues they might be too embarrassed or uncomfortable to bring up with friends.

Sen. Victoria Goncalves, CCAS-U, who co-sponsored the bill, said the service could also help students who are hesitant to talk to a professional. Goncalves said one of her close friends could have benefited from an anonymous student-run hotline: Her friend wanted to reach out to someone for help, but was too intimidated to go to an “authority figure.”

A University department like UCC or the Division of Student Affairs would likely manage the day-to-day operations and training, Gumas said.

Sen. Omeed Firouzi, U-At-Large, who sponsored the bill, said other universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell, Hamilton and Northwestern universities, have seen positive results by housing similar student support services within current counseling structures.

“I have reached out to peers in times where I needed help, and I can only imagine how much even more helpful it would’ve been had those peers been armed with the kind of professional training that the peers in this program would have,” Firouzi said.

-Iliana Hagenah contributed reporting.

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