In a wise, responsible, and commendable move, the Undergraduate Council has committed $2,000 across six peer counseling groups for dining support during Opening Days trainings. Providing confidential, highly trained mental health support in several contexts—relationships, sexual assault, marginalized cultural communities, eating disorders, and others—these groups routinely demonstrate selflessness, compassion, and care.
Naturally, these vital services demand substantial time sacrifices on the part of volunteer peer counselors, who are not compensated financially but only driven by the fulfillment of supporting their peers. This makes their dedication yet more admirable, and for their altruism, we are truly grateful. Sadly, this can also sometimes spread such organizations too thin, leading to challenges in maintaining funding and volunteers by no fault of the organizations themselves.
We recognize that many peer counselors’ stakes in their groups outweigh any financial burdens caused by the unpaid time commitments. Yet for many would-be peer counselors, the burden represents an unjust and prohibitive barrier to involvement. This is especially true for the intensive training programs that these groups run during Opening Days. Prior to the UC’s grant, peer counselors in training were expected to foot the bill for a full week of dining expenses.
While we applaud the step forward that this grant represents, we doubt that $2,000, distributed over six organizations, is sufficient to completely remove any financial barriers to attending these training sessions. For this reason, we regret that the administration does not provide adequate funds for food and other expenses for some of the students who are most dedicated to the mental health of our campus.
The potential budgetary challenges the administration may face in funding peer counseling groups pales in comparison to the amount of effort—especially given the nature of the work—that these groups put in. Indeed, peer counseling is fundamentally different and more demanding than the work of many other student organizations that do not receive similar funding from Harvard.
Whereas it is appropriate for the UC to provide financial support for many of our student organizations, peer counseling groups are exceptionally deserving of help. The UC was right to provide funds for peer counseling groups and bring attention to this pressing need, but we hope to see the administration take on this responsibility in the future.
While there is always room for improvement in efforts to address mental health issues, peer counseling groups uniquely address mental health needs unmet on many other college campuses by focusing on different communities within the student body. Indeed, distinctions between and diversity among our peer counseling groups are among their strongest attributes.While maintaining these differences and their independence, perhaps peer counseling groups would benefit from increased inter-organizational collaboration, which would bolster their agency in advocating for funds. To ensure continued and increasing support, however, they might find power in building a coalition or umbrella leadership group akin to public service groups’ Phillips Brooks House Association. Regardless of the direction peer counseling groups take, we call on the administration to expand their support for these vital groups.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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