Pomona College is in the beginning stages of implementing a peer counseling system across campus, with the assistance of the Tri-City Mental Health Center.
Chiara Dorigo PO ’15, Nate Hill PO ’16 and Yenli Wong PO ’15 began working on the plan last summer, with the help of Tri-City, which is based in the city of Pomona. The students approached administrators with their idea last December.
Dorigo is co-president of the 5C Mental Health Alliance (MHA). In an email to TSL, Dorigo wrote that the initial goal of the program was to provide students with a peer-based mental health service, similar to the program at Cal Poly Pomona that is also overseen by Tri-City.
“The benefits of the program as we envisioned it were to supplement the mental health resources available to students on campus, and to reach out to a population of students that is broader than that already receiving formal psychotherapeutic services,” Dorigo wrote.
Administrators also saw the need for such a program through the Healthy Minds Study, a nationwide mental health survey taken by Pomona students last winter.
Nine hundred Pomona students completed the survey. The resulting data showed that 64 percent of students sought help last year from a friend when they were emotionally or mentally in distress, and 75 percent of students sought help from a friend who was not a roommate.
“There was a growing need and request from students to have a peer counseling program,” Associate Dean of Students for Student Support and Learning Jan Collins-Eaglin said. She added that many students “feel that a peer is more approachable.”
In an email to TSL, Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum wrote that students who wish to serve as peer counselors must be trained by and work through Tri-City, and they may work with Claremont residents in addition to Pomona College students.
Whom they are counseling “would depend on who asks for peer counseling and who TriCity thinks is a good fit for that peer counselor,” Feldblum wrote. “And, certainly some folks who ask for peer counseling are youth from the community.”
Elexis Marie Witkin PO ’17 is one of five students currently training to be counselors. However, she said that she was disappointed after she attended the information session about the program and learned that her role might not be as Pomona-based as she had expected.
“They had advertised themselves as peer-to-peer counseling. And I had come in, and I think most people had come in with the impression that implied the program was on campus,” Witkin said. “It was a little disappointing that I wouldn’t be having a direct impact on campus.”
Witkin will continue to be involved, out of hopes that the program will eventually be able to support the growing number of students looking for peer support.
“I feel like it would do wonders to relieve some of the stigma with mental health,” Witkin said. “Monsour is a pretty intimidating place for a lot of people … This may be a more approachable way to deal with problems.”
According to Dorigo, training began early this month and will be held weekly throughout the peer counselors’ nine-month terms. Trainings are held off-campus at a Tri-City office and will continue through winter break. Dorigo wrote that this is necessary because the holiday season can be a particularly distressing time for those struggling with mental health issues.
“My hope is that, in the future, Pomona will be able to sponsor and oversee a robust and independent peer counseling program on campus to help supplement the mental health resources currently available and to better address the needs of its students,” Dorigo wrote. “Plenty of other schools have done this, so there is no reason for Pomona not to be able to.”