Assistant Opinion Editor
As college students, we all know that it is only a matter of time before we are confronted by issues we are not prepared to deal with. Whether they be alcohol related, sexual in nature, or questions over proper nutrition or mental health, it can be difficult to seek help on these topics. This is where the peer health educators come in.
Though many people on campus have most likely heard of the Peer Health Educators (PHEs), most may not be aware of who they are or what they do. PHEs are trained and certified students that are available to anyone on campus to help with issues regarding “alcohol awareness and responsibility, drug awareness, sexual health, fitness, nutrition, mental health, stress reduction, and overall wellbeing,” according to Kelsey Sevenski, student manager of the Peer Health Education program. “Our main goal is to educate and raise awareness.”
PHEs work as a separate entity from Millersville University’s Health Services department, although both cooperate on the popular campus health bulletin, “Stall Talk.” They are co-housed with the Women’s Center, sharing the same director, Jayme Trogus, and working alongside, but not in conjunction, with the Empower Peer Educators (EPEs).
EPEs are similar to PHEs in that they are also dedicated to the education of students and raising awareness on topics that are difficult to discuss. “Our goal is to empower our peers, just like the name says,” said EPE Nzinga Lloyd. “We help make it easier to talk about things like sexual harassment, rape, and domestic violence, but we also focus on healthy relationships and improving body image.” The EPEs are led by student manager Emily Reiser.
To engage students and maintain a strong presence on campus, the educators offer a wide variety of programs on a range of topics as well as awareness weeks throughout the academic year. As of right now, there are six committees planning the six major awareness weeks which include alcohol awareness, mental health and stress reduction, and an overall wellness week, among others.
Typically, programs are preset and scripted and are presented by a peer health educator and a coworker. Types of programs include “Stress Begone,” “ABCs of STDs,” and “Chasing that First High,” all of which touch on various subjects including sexual health, drug and alcohol awareness, and mental health. Currently, there are six programs set in stone, but since they are requested by various groups, that number can fluctuate depending on demand.
Upcoming events for the PHEs include an open nutrition program on Oct. 5, the Wellness Fair on Oct. 17 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the SMC Promenade, and Alcohol Awareness Week from Oct. 22-26. The EPEs will host both Walk a Mile in Her Shoes and the open program, The Date, on Oct. 18.
Both groups try to keep a strong presence on campus through the use of fliers, advertisements, outreach tables, yard signs, and chalking. While Sevenski believes that the PHEs have a strong presence, she wants it to be stronger. Now in her second year, Sevenski admits that there are a lot less peer health educators now than in the past. Citing a lack of student interest and a bad applicant pool, Sevenski explained that, “We didn’t want to hire people just to hire them. We want people who are passionate on the topics and about helping people.”
Meghan Hornberger, a new addition to the PHE program, feels that the work she and her coworkers do is important because they help with issues everyone experiences. “I’ve made friends, developed leadership and organizational skills, and I feel more involved on campus,” she said. The current number of PHEs stands at 9, but that number is expected to rise to 15 in the next few weeks after several trainees finish their certifications. At the moment, there are 12 EPEs.
Those interested in becoming a peer health educator should stop by their office in the Montour House at 18 South George St. across from the Student Memorial Center. Applications are typically reviewed in the spring. Promising applicants are then subjected to an interview process. If selected, you will take part in a training program during the summer before taking a test to become a certified peer educator. Since the PHEs are a service offered by the university and not a student organization, the positions are paid.
PHEs as well as EPEs can be found in the Montour House from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mon. through Fri. and are available by telephone at 717-872-3841. Students are encouraged to stop in if they have any questions or if they are in need of a free safer sex kit. “We’re always looking for suggestions and help,” said Sevenski. “Feel free to stop in, we’re always welcoming!”