Sometimes, it is easier to discuss personal feelings with someone online than in person. Peer2Peer hopes to use that fact. It will be MIT’s first student support service to be conducted completely online. Cofounders of the program Tzipora R. Wagner ’12 and Isabella S. Lubin ’13 designed Peer2Peer as an anonymous, message-based system in order to make reaching out for help more accessible to stressed-out students. Originally intended to launch this year, the program has hit several roadblocks in its development and will not start until at least next year.
“Switching over to an online-based support service really makes it easy for people to reach out and get in touch with people when they need to and get off their chest what they need to,” explained Wagner.
The main principle behind Peer2Peer is that students can send a message at any time, and expect that message to be read and replied to by a fellow MIT student — a peer.
Each Peer2Peer volunteer would spend a few hours each week answering emails and providing responses that are both genuine and empathetic.
“Our ideal responder is someone who can empathize with their fellow students, who wants to be an ear, and who has the capacity to understand where people are coming from even if they haven’t experienced certain things for themselves,” said Wagner. “At the most basic, we’re looking for people who want to help each other.” In addition, Peer2Peer is seeking to build a diverse group of responders who come from all kinds of backgrounds.
Peer2Peer volunteers would be trained in topics including stress, family and friend problems, mental illness, and sexual assault. Moreover, the student volunteers would know about both professional and student support services at MIT.
Wagner and Lubin both emphasize that Peer2Peer is not meant to be a crisis hotline. Rather, students who write to Peer2Peer can expect a reply within a few hours. To ensure that only students at the Institute use the service, students will have to use their MIT certificates when sending messages. However, none of the information associated with the certificate will be made available to the message reader. Only in extreme circumstances, such as an immediate danger of suicide, would the information be released to professionals.
“MIT very much has a culture of stress,” stated Wagner. “There is almost a competitive nature of stress at MIT to see who can push themselves the hardest and stay up the longest.”
Although Lubin considers herself a level-headed person, she says that she has felt the all-consuming stress at times as well. “Pretty much everyone at MIT feels it,” said Lubin. “What’s funny about it is that it’s something we all recognize … yet we haven’t really done much of anything to correct it.”
Lubin hopes that a program like Peer2Peer will help let students know that they are not alone in their stress.
“When you’re having a breakdown at 4 in the morning on a p-set or studying for an exam, you can connect with someone else and say, ‘This is what I’m feeling,’ and someone else will be there and say, ‘I know exactly what you’re feeling, I’m going through it too. We’re going to get through this,’” said Lubin. “Even if you are still feeling that stress, knowing that you’re not suffering alone automatically makes you feel better about your life.”
Wagner agrees, noting that stress accumulates when students hold onto their problems because they do not feel that anything anyone says is going to make their lives better, instead of talking to people about their issues.
“It’s extremely helpful to be able to go to someone whose only job is to listen to you,” said Wagner. “That’s their job. You don’t feel like you’re inconveniencing them, there’s nothing wrong that you can say, your only purpose in being there is to work through what’s going on in your head.”
“We’re continuing to figure out the logistics of getting this service up and running,” said Wagner. Wagner and Lubin are currently still in dialogue with members of the MIT community in trying to ensure that the program is supported by all of MIT, in addition to working out privacy details. Ultimately, they want to figure out the best way to serve MIT students.
“I think that top-tier universities are just automatically going to put you in an environment where you might fail. You might not succeed in something when you’re used to succeeding at everything,” said Lubin. “I think that what MIT students are really great at are taking that increase in stress and magnifying it times 10. A lot of [the pressure] is student-driven, but I don’t think anyone would say that MIT is ever going to be easy or not stressful.”
Students who would like more information about the program can email firstname.lastname@example.org.