Trying to Fill a Void, Peer Counselors Offer Advice That The Pros Can't

All of the peer counselors interviewed for this article said their efforts could not be matched by any other resource on a college campus, no matter what steps the administration might take to improve them.

"There would be a void without us," says Cara W. Robertson '90, co-director of Response, a 16-member group specializing in sexual harassment as well as more general relationship problems.

Each of the student-run counseling groups has extensive and varying "hotline" hours, sometimes all night, when students can call or drop-in to talk.

All the groups are supervised by the University Health Services (UHS) and some by the Bureau of Study Counsel, but peer advisers say that their services go beyond what those professional services can offer.

"Their peers are more in tune with their needs and their feelings," says Michelle B. Fontaine '90, co-director of PCC. She says that the group's counselees who have tried both types of counseling almost always say that they prefer student counse-100 percent sure that they will not raise an


"It's a lot easier to admit you're not all that knowledgeable in front of a peer counselor, rather than a doctor or a nurse," Jaffe says.

Students especially like going to peer counsenling services because of they are not tied to more than a temporary relationship. "You don't have to go back, and no one will ever know you were there," says Jaffe.

Members of the group Contact, which focuses on issues of sexual orientation, say that they especially perform a function that professional counseling may sometimes leave incomplete.

"There are still a few professional out there who see homosexuality as something to be cured or changed," says Jed David Kolko '92, a co-director of Contact. "There's a risk the experience could be at the very least unhelpful, and at the worst, destructive."

"Contact ensures that a student can be absolutely, 100 percent sure that they will not raise an eyebrow, certainly not on issues of sexual orientation," says Contact Co-Director Humberto X. Mata '90-'91.

Student counselors say that the hours they are open cover a timespan during which little other help is even available. For instance, Room 13 is open all night, as is Response several evenings a week.

Peer counseling groups are a "place to go or call when you have to talk to someone immediately," says Shael Brachman '90, co-director of Response.

Counselees who call in to the groups are the rule rather than the exception, according to the counselors, who say that students prefer the anonymity of the telephone.

Complementary Efforts

While there are five peer counseling groups at Harvard, counselors say that they are not in competition because each group has a unique strength.

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