Harvard University Health Services will combine several peer education groups aimed at undergraduates into a centralized program this year in anticipation of a fall 2021 launch.
Four peer education groups — Consent Advocates and Relationship Educators, Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisors, Health Peer Advisors and Liaisons, and Sexual Health Awareness and Relationship Communication — will merge as part of the initiative. They respectively educate students about gender, sexuality, and interpersonal violence prevention; drugs and alcohol; general health; and sexual health.
Student Mental Health Liaisons, the fifth peer education group, will also undergo changes, though HUHS has not announced exactly what form they will take.
The unified program will train undergraduate members to “promote a multitude of important public health topics, including substance abuse, emotional and physical wellbeing, spirituality and more,” HUHS Senior Director of Nursing and Health Promotion Maria Francesconi wrote in an emailed statement.
Iman G. Lavery ’22, director of operations for CARE, said while HUHS’s decision to integrate the groups was made without consulting undergraduate educators, the formulation of the new program would rely on student input.
“We don’t want to put burdens on the membership,” Lavery said. “But we also want to make sure that it’s open for people who are excited about it, for people who do want to make sure that their passion for the work that CARE does gets translated to this new group.”
“I think we do have a really unique opportunity to delve into the places where all of the peer ed groups overlap and make sure that we’re actually going to be able to create a more comprehensive resource for students,” she added.
CARE educator Patricia J. Liu ’21 said she felt a “loss” upon hearing of the planned consolidation, but saw the educational potential of the new peer education group.
“While I think CARE was a really great way for Harvard to demonstrate their commitment to consent, it’s not to say that a centralized wellness program couldn’t also do that to a significant degree,” Liu, an inactive Crimson news editor, said.
“There are a lot of different ways that CARE and SHARC could interact or CARE and DAPA could interact to create more of an intersectional curriculum,” she added.
DAPA educator Robin M. Robinson ’22 said she is likely to join the new program despite feeling a similar sense of loss to Liu.
“It’s kinda sad because each of the groups had their own personalities,” Robinson said. “You won’t see DAPA water bottles anymore, you won’t see SHARC shirts.”
“It took a long time for DAPA to be taken seriously by the undergrads, and I know a lot of people still don’t really know what SHARC is,” she said. “So it’s going to be interesting to see how this new group brands themselves and see how they do their community outreach.”
Some student educators like Liu and Robinson expressed uncertainty over whether normal peer education programming would continue during the 2020-2021 academic year — including wellness workshops led by CARE and DAPA each fall for first-year students. Still, Francesconi wrote that there will be no interruptions during the transition period.
“HUHS will work closely with students from our peer education groups throughout the fall and spring to shape this new group,” she wrote. “Until its launch, our peer education groups will continue to operate and provide support to the community.”
—Staff writer Alex M. Koller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.