Peer counseling groups attempt to deal with highly important issues in ways that will be effective, yet proctors and first-years often complain about them...the word in the Yard is that "they suck."
Before I started my first outreach as a member of Contact, I was so scared I was shaking. I was about to try to get a room full of first-years to talk about homosexuality and other sexual issues. What if no one talked and they all just sat there staring at us? What if the first-years started arguing? What if I screwed something up?
As the hour wore on, I calmed down. Everyone participated in the role-play, and most of the first-years said something in the discussion. Afterwards, a few of them even told us that the outreach was interesting and that they learned something.
Over the three semesters I was on Contact, I went on several outreaches, some excellent, some good and one or two I'm still trying to forget. I noticed that how well an outreach will be depends on a number of factors: the attitudes of the first-years, if there's a Chem 10 exam the next day, whether the peer counselors had enough coffee and so on. They are almost impossible to predict. On some level, though, everyone learns something about each others' views or starts to think a little more about gays, lesbians and bisexuals and how they affect our lives. That is the point of the outreach, after all.
I became even more interested in out-reachesafter I finished my tenure on Contact. Even thoughdoing them made me a little nervous, I felt I wasperforming an important service. Christina S.Griffith, the Assistant Dean of Freshmen in chargeof the Freshman Dean's Office's outreach system,says it is important that after a student's firstyear, "they have collected the tools to haveconstructive, open-minded conversations about allsorts of issues." The outreaches help first-yearsdo this.
Unfortunately, the system in which theseoutreaches exist has large flaws, and tensionbetween those giving the outreaches and thosereceiving them has arisen. The peer groupscomplain about some of the proctors' attitudes orinability to return phone calls for scheduling,and the proctors complain about the quality of thepeer groups' outreaches or having to force theirstudents to go them. "Oh man, they suck," is theword in the Yard on peer group outreaches,according to John F. Blackmer '98. Even though hecontinues, "whenever 1600 people in the Yard aresaying one word together, it's probably prettyshallow," the message is still clear. First-yearshave a tendency to dread outreaches.
What is going on?
WHERE DID OUTREACHES COME FROM?
Though the exact date seems to be lostin a file cabinet on the third floor of UniversityHealth Services (or at least in the memories ofthe Blondie generation), in the early 1980s PeerContraceptive Counselors (PCC) became the firstpeer counseling group to begin doing outreaches.According to Nadja B. Gould, a social worker atUniversity Health Services and a supervisor of thepeer counseling groups, PCC started theiroutreaches after hearing of a similar program thatwas successful at Dartmouth. There, outreachessurrounded kegs at fraternities. PCC went tofirst-year entries, where kegs were absent andCoke and pretzels took their place.
Soon afterwards, three new peer counselinggroups were formed and each group developed itsownoutreaches. Response, the peer counseling groupspecializing in rape, sexual abuse and sexualharassment, was formed and developed an outreachfirst. The other peer counseling groups, EatingConcerns Hotline and Outreach (ECHO) and Contact,dealing with sex, sexuality, sexual orientationand relationships, followed shortly. Room 13'sgroup discussions used to be limited to shortpresentations after Response outreaches. Only thisyear did they begin outreaches on their own.
In the late eighties two peer health educationgroups, Project Alcohol and Drug Dialogue (ProjectADD) and AIDS Education and Outreach (AEO), wereformed and as part of their mandate providedoutreaches on their topics to the first-years.Peer Relations and Date Rape and SHARE (Studentsat Harvard-Radcliffe Addressing Race andEthnicity) began outreaching recently as well.
The three groups of organizations that performoutreaches differ greatly. The peer counselinggroups do outreaches as a secondary service to theCollege, devoting mostof their time and energy tocounseling. They are trained and supervised bytherapists at UHS and the Bureau of Study Counsel.University Hall funds two groups, SHARE and PeerRelations and Date Rape, and they are supervised,respectfully, by Suzanne Repetto, a therapist atthe Bureau of Study Council, and Virginia L.Mackay-Smith '78, the Assistant Dean forCo-Education. The health education groups, whichno longer do outreaches as of this fall (seebelow),are run by the Health Education Office atUHS.
Originally the outreach system was chaotic. Thesystem (or lack thereof) was scattered, difficultto coordinate and outreaches did not have requiredattendance. About four years ago, as part of adrive for better organization, the FDO beganrequiring proctors to sign up for a certain numberof outreaches that would be mandatory forfirst-years to attend. Proctors are currentlyrequired to select five groups to speak with theirfirst-years.
The outreaches themselves are the topics ofconversation among many first-years and they havea tendency to make appearances in the pages ofcampus opinion magazines. PCC and Contact have twoof the most famous, or infamous, presentations.
THE CASE OF PCC
Probably because of their use of Woodythe Wooden Penis and Patty the Plastic Pelvis intheir skits, PCC has one of the best knownoutreaches. PCC designs its outreach to provideimportant information about contraception tofirst-years who may not necessarily have it. Formany first-years, college is a time of sexualawakening and many do not know how contraceptivesare used or what contraceptives are there to beused. "It's important that [first-years] go intothis change of lifestyle well-equipped," Matthew