College can be a stressful time for students. For many people, college is the first experience living away from home and for some the distance will become too much. Beyond the distance, students may face heavy workloads, sleep deprivation and relationship issues. However, Pacific University’s Campus Wellness has created a program meant to combat student experiences with all types of relationship problems from simple advice to discussions on sexual harassment and assault.
The program is called the Peer Advocates Program and its goal is to create a safe and confidential space for students to share their experiences. The advocates are trained to listen compassionately, respond to reports in a supportive manner and then direct the student to the appropriate resource.
“The purpose of the Peer Advocates Program is to provide confidential support to students who have had confusing or unwanted sexual experiences, are in unhealthy relationships, being stalked or have experienced recent, past or attempted, sexual assaults,” Campus Wellness coordinator Kathleen Converse said. “Many survivors don’t feel comfortable coming forward and accessing resources.”
The goal of the Peer Advocacy program is to reduce some of those barriers, and create a confidential space to process the experience, receive support and get access to on and off campus resources.
What makes Peer Advocates stand out from other resources on campus is their ability to keep almost any conversation confidential. For example, a member of faculty is required to report any incident of sexual misconduct shared with them leading to a university investigation.
The Peer Advocates however, are given permission by the State of Oregon to keep that information confidential. Campus Wellness hopes this level of confidentiality will increase the amount of students who are willing to come forward in order to seek help or guidance.
“Under Oregon law HB 3476 Peer Advocates have privileged confidentiality,” Converse said. “Disclosure to an advocate does not trigger a Pacific investigation into an incident without written consent, except in very limited exceptions required by law.”
Converse warned that Peer Advocates are not a means through which to receive counseling and their purpose is not to give regular therapeutic sessions. Their purpose is to provide students easy access to the resources they need.
The student leaders involved in the Peer Advocacy program have gone through extensive training to prepare them in their fight against sexual harassment and assault.
Converse emphasized the importance of taking preventative measures against sexual misconduct before it happens rather than simply dealing with the aftermath. The Peer Advocates hope that by providing a space for students to share their experiences Pacific will see a decrease in the amount of sexual misconduct cases.
“The goal of this program is to create a campus environment where sexual assault is unacceptable, and survivors are supported,” Converse said. “We want survivors to feel empowered to access resources to facilitate their recovery.”