Peer Health changes structure, aims to be more accessible – The Bowdoin Orient

Kyra Tan

The Peer Health facility at the College looks different this year than it did in years past. The change comes as the volunteer student group attempts to move from its historic independence from college and internal programming approach to a more purposeful partnership with Residential Life in order to cultivate a unified front to support students.

While the peer health mentors used hold mandatory one-on-one meetings with assigned plans and students, this year the mentors hope to be available as an additional, less formal resource for the plan as a whole, similar to a residential assistant. The tutors hope that this will make the relationships between them and the first year students more organic and adapted to personal needs.

“I think this year is much more like you can make your relationships specific to your floor instead of one size fits all,” Sophia Tottene-Darvas ’25, who is in her first year as a peer health mentor, said .

Peer Health’s mission is multidimensional and aims to address common problems students may encounter on a daily basis. Contrary to last year’s collective approach to programming, the group has now split into three committees focused on addressing specific issues: Sexual Relations and Health, Alcohol and Other Drugs, and Peer Support. This multi-pronged approach enables the organization to reach all students in a targeted manner and with a schedule developed by each group for its unique topic. The programming ranges from last year’s Sex Fest to workshops on responsible alcohol consumption.

“I feel that my role as a mentor within the Bowdoin community is to be a guide in terms of health and wellbeing and truly support those opportunities found on campus that many people don’t know about,” Henry Somerby ’23, a member of Peer Health’s leadership team, he said.

Somerby believes this change has better equipped Peer Health members to be valuable assets, as well as friendly faces, on campus.

“We are working more with ResLife and are just trying to be another addition or asset on the floor,” he said. “It allowed us to focus a lot more on scheduling too and we just focused on showing up for the first year dorms.”

For him, this means attending weekly flinners for assigned plans and planning events like Plan B Day, where contraceptives and other sexual health resources were distributed to students.

Prior to this year’s restructuring, the early years often expressed that their peer health mentor was less accessible and that peer conversations were less regular and, as a result, felt less natural.

“This year I feel very helpful because Peer Health didn’t have much presence last year,” said Tottene-Darvas. “I think … it varies from floor to floor.”

Last year, Peer Health mentors were less involved in assigned plans, making individual interactions less meaningful. Now, mentors are more engaged and conversations can go further.

“I love how it works now, especially compared to what was going on,” Somerby said. “It seems we are freer to do what we want and whatever we can to help the student body.”

Pablo Patel ’23 has been an attorney for two years and hasn’t noticed many changes for ResLife since peer health has changed. But he noted the closer relationship between Peer Health and ResLife this year.

“I feel that last year Peer Health was feeling very separate and this year I feel they are doing a lot more publicity in terms of ‘these are the events we are doing’ and have been contacting us for our first-year,” he said. Patel.

The increased involvement helps reduce pressure on both sides, as both organizations can work together to solve problems, using their overlapping expertise. Patel noted the different training both groups are undergoing and how this plays a role in relationships with the early years.

“I think [ResLife] has some training in mental health and sexual health and general health only, “Patel said.”[Peer Health] training is much more localized with health related stuff so I hope my early years can contact them in case of problems. “

The resources do not go unnoticed. Although Courtney Burnett ’26 didn’t interact much with her peer health mentor, she still noticed that she felt supported. She and her Peer Health mentor met briefly at the start of classes and were offered information on Peer Health programming and what the organization does.

“I feel like the speech we had in the beginning made me feel really confident in the resources we have here,” said Burnett.

The integration of Peer Health tutors into the first year plans is a move to open consistent and meaningful connections between classes that go beyond the surface level.

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