Peer advising programs growing in residential colleges

An increasing number of Yale organizations is placing liaisons in the University’s 12 residential colleges, marking a growing trend in bringing resources directly to students.

One semester after Undergraduate Career Services introduced peer advisors, UCS has noticed a significant increase in the number of students using its peer counseling resources. But Yale Health’s Mental Health Fellows program, which also launched at the start of the fall, is still in the works and has had a less clear impact on how students use the center’s services. UCS and Yale Health are among an increasing number of University groups that have turned to peer liaisons in residential colleges to increase support services for students and direct more traffic toward already available resources.

Before UCS established its new peer advising system, peer advisors held office hours at the center’s office on Whitney Avenue. But since peer liaisons were placed in residential colleges last semester, the number of students seeking advice from peer advisors has “more than doubled,” UCS Director Allyson Moore said in a Monday email. Only 293 students sought peer counseling in fall 2010, Moore said, while 629 students used the resource in fall 2011. The number of students meeting with peer advisors varies from week to week, she added.

Joanna Cornell ’12, a peer adviser for Saybrook College, said she thinks students are taking advantage of the resource and that the program has been a success. Cornell said the program has been particularly helpful for freshmen, who she said often find setting up appointments at the UCS office to be more intimidating than meeting with someone in their college. More than 35 students attended a fall workshop she helped organize on summer opportunities, she added.

“I definitely have been booked the entire time and have had people waiting to see me,” she said.

While the UCS peer liaisons provide students with career advice and internship counseling, the mental health fellows have focused on improving student awareness of what resources Yale Health offers.

Lorraine Siggins, chief psychiatrist of Yale Health, told the News in December that the presence of mental health fellows in the residential colleges would encourage more students to take advantage of Yale’s counseling resources.

In a Monday email, Siggins said the number of students who visited Yale Health during the fall semester was greater than it had been in fall 2010. The increase is not necessarily related to the new program, Siggins said, but more freshmen and sophomores may have decided to visit Yale Health after meeting their mental health fellows during orientation. The college liaisons structure also makes the program more “personal and accessible” for students, Siggins said.

The UCS and Yale Health peer advising programs are the latest additions to a growing number of student advisory groups that offer student counseling services in the residential colleges.

Lincoln Sedlacek ’13, a fall semester co-coordinator for LGBTQ issues counseling group Queer Peers, said the organization has seen an uptick in student visitors since it placed liaisons in residential colleges in fall 2010.

Queer Peers liaison Eric Morrison ’12 said he had never received a walk-in appointment before Queer Peers established residential college liaisons, though he has worked with the organization for five semesters. Morrison said having college liaisons gives students more anonymity and flexibility in setting up appointments.

Co-coordinator Kati Moug ’13 said she hopes to expand the college liaison program this semester because it has successfully encouraged students to approach the program for advice.

Students interviewed expressed mixed opinions about the success of the new programs. Leland Whitehouse ’14 said he has never sought counseling from mental health fellows or UCS peer advisers, and finds Yale’s large number of resources overwhelming and unnecessary.

“There is an initial tendency in the University to solve every problem by creating a new bureaucratic organization, but I don’t see myself taking the initiative [to use the resources],” Whitehouse said.

UCS peer advisors are available on the center’s website, and the list of mental health fellows for the spring semester will be released later this week.

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