Feeling stressed but don’t know what to do? Starting next spring, students will be able to take advantage of a new student-run program called Peer Ears, designed to allow students, or “peer ears,” to refer their peers in need to the proper MIT support resources. The program was founded by Divya Srinivasan ’13 and Emad Taliep ’14, who felt that many students were not always sure where to go if they encountered a problem. Unlike MedLinks, however, peer ears will not be trained to handle mental health issues themselves.
Peer Ears is the second mental health program that will launch in the spring, joining Peer2Peer, an anonymous email-based support program that was created partially in response to the closing of Nightline two years ago.
“Peer Ears will be the first program of its kind to interface with the residential safety net,” explained Srinivasan. “Our ‘peer ears’ — the program’s student advocates — would help GRTs check up on floormates, guaranteeing that a few people are always aware of the general well-being of their neighbors.” Students who need help can go to their peer ears at any time, who will be trained to direct them to a support service.
To achieve this goal, Peer Ears plans to offer a two-week training course during the second half of IAP to train selected students to deal with a wide variety of issues. The course will be taught by professionals from MIT’s Mental Health & Counseling Services.
An application will be sent out in early November. From there, a list of peer ears will be selected based on interviews and written applications.
“Our two liaisons to the program from Mental Health and Counseling will review that list and recommend a certain set of candidates,” said Taliep. Afterward, residents of the dorm who have not applied to the program will be able to provide input to make the final decisions.
In a way, Taliep said, Peer Ears can be likened to a human version of MIT Together, which launched two weeks ago and aims to aggregate all of MIT’s support resources into one place. However, he and Srinivasan stressed that Peer Ears is different from other support services that are already in place.
“It’s different because we also want that interaction with a peer ear to be no different than seeing a friend,” said Taliep.
The program’s first year will be funded from leftover discretionary funds given by Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80. Peer Ears will create a budget for future years depending on the results of the pilot program.
Srinivasan added, “The student service is going to begin next semester as a pilot in a few dorms and FSILGs. We are currently working with the residential staff and student governments within these different residences to determine how to tailor the Peer Ears service to the dorm and residents’ needs.”
The idea for Peer Ears first came up in 2008 among the founders of MIT’s Active Minds chapter, a club that aims to promote awareness of mental health issues and general mental well-being. However, development was stalled until members Srinivasan and Taliep took up the program. The club’s advisor and two liaisons from MIT Mental Health guided the formation of the program. In addition, Srinivasan and Taliep consulted the Dormitory Council, representatives from the Division of Student Life, MIT’s law office, and people who run similar programs at peer institutions.
Taliep said, “In putting this together, we’re thinking maybe this will get some important things right; maybe it won’t. But whatever happens, we’ll set a precedent for involving our campus in this process of shoring up our services and building up and supporting our community. That’s all that we could ask for.”
Students who have any questions about the program can email firstname.lastname@example.org.