CAPS Update

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St. Mary’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has been active and busy in the St. Mary’s community recently, raising awareness of important issues in mental, social, sexual, and physical health, and providing a strong support system for students on campus.  The CAPS program has recently welcomed two new staff members aboard: Laurie Scherer—Assistant Director and Peer Health Educator Supervisor, and Rachel Honig—Staff Therapist, Advocate, and Supervisor of the SMARTies (Sexual Misconduct Advocacy and Research Team).  CAPS Director Kyle Bishop says, “Rachel and Laurie have done an excellent job with the transitional period this year.  I know they have a lot of things planned moving forward.”

Scherer’s supervisees, the Peer Health Educators, are a group of students trained to support and educate their fellow students in mental and physical health.  They specialize in many areas, and have created committees specialized to certain student need, including sexuality and gender, consent, communication and community, health promotion, exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle, alcohol and drug education and prevention of abuse, and mental health, suicide, and counseling.  One new program they will be participating in alongside the SMARTies, the Escalation Workshop, helps students understand how to approach and deal with these issues.  The workshop’s website offers information on this event: “On campuses, Escalation is screened as part of a 90-minute workshop discussion group led by a One Love facilitator or a campus facilitator trained by One Love. After the film, the facilitator guides students through a meaningful discussion about relationship violence, the warning signs of an abusive relationship and how this relates to their lives and their campus.”  SMARTies Supervisor, Rachel Honig explains that, “The SMARTies are going to be trained in this peer-led group so they will know how to do the training.  Then they will work with other groups on campus to implement it.”

In addition to Escalation, the SMARTies are working to bring the anti-sexual assault and domestic violence campaign, “No More” to SMCM.  “The SMARTies wanted to do the No More campaign with campus leaders—so they’ll fill out the no more signs and they’ll film leaders saying ‘no more,’ to raise awareness and to bring everyone together on this issue,”  Honig says.  “We’re trying to get the word out about some of the things we’re doing.  We’re building up the things we want to do so that we can start to really engage the community.”

Peer Health Educators are working alongside the SMARTies to bring this awareness and engagement to students individually.  This is why Peer Health has started a residence hall programming system.  In this system, RAs can work with the Peer Health Educators to host events for the residence halls.  Scherer describes one such event: “My favorite program is ‘A Slice of Consent.’  It’s a pizza party where the Peer Health Educators talk about how people put more thought into what they order on their pizza than how to talk to a partner about sexual connection, what they prefer, and what’s safe,” she says.  “It’s set up to be student-friendly, and it’s been well-received.”

Another well-received Peer Health-hosted event has been the Relaxation Night during finals at the Library.  During this event, students are able to enjoy hot chocolate and fun and relaxing activities like yoga and coloring.  About the event, Bishop says, “We will do the relaxation event annually and we’re also going to have the Peer Health Educators host a relaxation space on the weekends when we’re not here for students.”  Also hosted annually is the Safer Sex Week tabling.  During this event in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, the Peer Health Educators are available to inform students about safe sex and consent.  Scherer says, “We take advantage of the romantic night to add some safety and health information into it.  It usually happens around the time of the Vagina Monologues, and it’s just a good time to make people aware of things that are available here at the Counseling Center.”

The Peer Health Educators are also currently working on coordinating a fitness day where they will be stationed to encourage and assist students in beginning an exercise routine.  Scherer says, “They’re going to host a day at the ARC where someone who’s never been there, and who maybe wants to try weightlifting, can come and drop in.  It helps people learn new ways of working out and how to stay encouraged.”

In addition to being involved across campus, the Peer Health Educators are available at the Counseling Center where they offer coaching and support.  As a unique and ongoing program, the Peer Health Educators offer classes and support for students who are going through the judicial system for issues pertaining to alcohol and drug charges.  Scherer explains, “These students can attend a class given by the Peer Health Educators.  It’s really nice compared to having to go to a lecture by a staff member out in town, or having do it through the legal system.  They handle it here and do a very good job of setting up programming that’s interactive and as fun as it can be.  Every semester they offer at least one of each: the marijuana class and the alcohol class.”

Scherer explains that the Peer Health Educators are also highly concerned with the issue of suicide among college students: “I think that’s probably our biggest push right now because suicide is the #2 cause of death in people around this age.  It takes a lot of working toward making sure we get rid of the stigma as well as give services.  People won’t access the services if they’re scared to talk about it.”  To combat this stigma and provide help, there will be a suicide prevention workshop held later in the semester.  Scherer explains, “It’s not just a lecture, it’s a workshop with experiential parts and neat things to do.  The Peer Health Educators are trained to provide programming in QPR which is Question, Persuade, and Refer—how to talk to someone who’s suicidal.  They’ll be doing that at the workshop.”  In addition to the workshop, Peer Health will be present at the annual “Stomp Out Stigma” 5K which happens annually in the fall.

The SMARTies will also be assisting with the annual events Take Back the Night and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.  Both events are marches that raise awareness for women’s issues regarding sexual assault and domestic violence.  Honig urges students to get involved with these events: “the SMARTies are working across campus and involving the whole campus community, and I would just encourage students to, if they’re interested in these topics, attend the events; or that they contact us to get involved in the groups.  We want to engage the campus in these issues because it takes all of us to address them.”

Scherer, too, encourages students to become more active in the CAPS programs, and offers reassurance that new Peer Health Educators will be supported by professionals at every step of the way: “We are going to be sending out information in April for students who might be interested in becoming Peer Health Educators,” Scherer says.  “We do offer a pretty extensive training to make sure they’re not just jumping into something, and they have our support in the training before they take on some of these important issues.”

Overall, it seems the events and involvement of Peer Health and SMART on campus have been successful and encouraging.  These programs are doing as much as they can to educate and support students across the board with issues pertaining to a diverse variety of health needs.  And of course, students are always welcome to either participate in hosted events, or to become part of the team.  Bishop expresses her hope for continued campus involvement: “There are a lot of exciting things to look forward to, and for students to get involved in,” Bishop says.  “Hopefully the presence of the SMARTies and the Peer Health Educators will just keep growing on campus.”

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