Weeks after the University unveiled an overhaul of the freshman-counselor program to include new mentors devoted to counseling students on matters of sexual orientation, leaders of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative announced that they plan to resuscitate Queer Peers, a volunteer support system for Elis grappling with questions of gender and sexuality.
The Queer Peers program, which was established in 2005 but disbanded in 2006 because it could not enlist enough volunteers, will also offer students guidance on the related topics of sexually transmitted diseases and relationships, organizers said. Benjamin Gonzalez ’09, a leader of the group from 2005 to 2006 and the Co-op coordinator, said many students’ hesitation to talk openly about sexuality makes an anonymous service like Queer Peers essential.
“People do not exactly voice their fears and questions about sexuality,” Gonzalez said. “This is a service needed and used by the many.”
Co-op leaders will offer counseling training to student volunteers this semester in the hopes of relaunching Queer Peers at the beginning of the next academic year. In addition to holding open hours at the Queer Resource Center six nights a week, program volunteers will operate a hotline — and eventually an instant-messaging service — during operating hours, which have not yet been determined, Gonzalez said.
“Most people never have to deal with these issues before college,” Co-op Secretary Edgar Diaz-Machado ’09 said, adding that the program is meant to help students “figure themselves out.”
But Benjamin Bernard ’11, one of the two heads of the new Queer Peers, said he thinks the “inconvenient” location of the QRC — 305 Crown St. — may discourage some students from seeking help.
“Its location is highly inconducive to having students schlep over to Crown Street unaccompanied — for students would almost invariably be alone because of the nature of the program — on a weekday at night,” Bernard wrote in an e-mail. “Having a space closer to the center of campus would make all the difference in the program’s accessibility to the students who need it most.”
Funding for the program has not yet been secured, he said, but organizers said they hope to make the counseling positions paid in order to attract volunteers.
Maria Trumpler, special advisor to the deans for LGBTQ issues, said the resurrection of Queer Peers nicely complements the updated freshman-counselor program. Starting in the fall of 2009, a special group of freshman counselors trained as peer mentors will assist queer freshmen, as well as several other groups on campus, including international and disabled students.
But while Co-op leaders said they think the new Queer Peers will fill a hole in the array of available resources, several questioned how necessary the program will be once freshman counseling is overhauled. Machado said he thinks the new dimension added to freshman counseling may eventually render Queer Peers obsolete.
“I have been wondering about the restructuring of the freshman-counselor programs,” he said. “Where does that really put the Queer Peers program?”