Four years after the successful introduction of the Communication and Consent Educators program, a group of undergraduate student employees who work to foster a healthy sexual climate on campus, the University is introducing a similar program to tackle issues of mental health and wellbeing among Yale students.
The new initiative, branded the Peer Wellness Champions program, was announced by the Yale College Council Wednesday evening in an email to all undergraduates. Run by the Office of the Vice President for Student Life, it is designed to help students navigate Yale’s wellness resources, including those related to mental health. The program will accept five undergraduates and five graduate and professional students for the spring, and the new hires will assist fellow students in thinking “deeply about individual and collective wellness,” the email said. Director of LGBTQ Resources Maria Trumpler GRD ’92, who is in charge of the project, said that while she has some plans for the program, the students selected for its inaugural class will play a large role in determining its final scope.
“What the Peer Wellness Champions will really emerge during the semester, and this first group of people will really help shape that,” Trumpler said. “[This program] is really building off of people who are thinking on wellness and giving them an opportunity to not be alone in it.”
The program will have a strong model to copy: The Yale College Dean’s Office currently employs 49 undergraduates as CCEs to host workshops and trainings on the topics of sexual misconduct and social climate. Like the CCEs, the Champions will engage with students through individual conversations and panels as well as address broader systemic issues, according to the Champions program’s website. The position will be paid and participants are required to attend a daylong training in January in addition to committing two to three hours per week.
Additionally, just as the CCEs are assigned to specific residential colleges, Trumpler said, the Champions program will eventually expand to two liaisons per residential college and professional school. But the first iteration will be done on a smaller scale due to the large financial cost, she said, although she did not provide further details about the program’s expected price tag.
Part of the Champions’ responsibilities will include becoming well-versed in Yale’s many support systems for self-care, which are listed on a new website that was unveiled by University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews in September. The website is part of a larger push on campus to make mental health resources more accessible and transparent to students.
Trumpler said the first cohort will consist of participants who have unique ideas regarding the meaning of wellness along with the different aspects of wellness in which students might be interested. She added that Champions should be able to consider all of the different obstacles that may bar students from pursuing wellness goals or seeking help.
“There’s a complex hiring process, especially because it’s paid and it’s a student job,” YCC President Joe English ’17 said. “I would imagine this will help us identify other gaps in Yale’s wellness and mental health resources and can inform future collaborations with the Office of the Vice President.”
The idea for the initiative is not entirely new. Last semester, YCC representative Joseph Cornett ’17 began developing a similar project called “Mental Health Fellows,” which would help connect students to the network of existing campus mental health resources. But when YCC representatives approached the administration with the idea, administrators said they were already in the midst of developing a similar project. The YCC and administrators joined together, and the Wellness Champions was the result, according to YCC University Services Director Megan Ruan ’17. Ruan added that the Champions will encompass a broader range of roles than was originally intended for the Mental Health Fellows, as they will address issues of general wellness that extend beyond just mental health.
Ruan said the YCC’s goal is to help students solve mental health problems in the long run. By targeting wellness in general instead of focusing on only mental health specifically, the Wellness Champions will be able to help students with a wider variety of issues, YCC Vice President Maddie Bauer ’17 said.
“I think there are a lot of students, both graduate and undergraduate, who think about their own wellbeing and worry that they may not be doing enough for it,” Trumpler said. “The idea of the Peer Wellness Champions is that they’re peers, and they can help think about ways to get around barriers keeping you from what you want.”
The application period for Peer Wellness Champions will close on Monday.