My W&L: Myers McGarry ’16
“Being a Peer Counselor did not just bring me closer to the 12 first-years on my hall, but it made me feel closer to the community as a whole.”
The life of a peer counselor is not always glamorous, but it has provided me with some of my most rewarding experiences at Washington and Lee. The program starts with a three-day training session where we discuss depression, anxiety, disordered eating, homesickness and other issues that first-year students can encounter. After my first training session, I was surprised to see how willing the older peer counselors were to discuss the topics and ask meaningful questions. This made training hard because I had never talked so deeply about such difficult issues. The conversations made training emotionally draining and tough to handle at times.
After training, I was excited to meet my peer counselees. My hall consisted of 12 first-year men and one resident advisor. One of the first things my RA said to me was that his goal was to foster a “close-knit community” on the hall. We achieved this goal, and by the end of the year there was no better way than “close” to describe the relationships we had made with each other. I was amazed by the honesty and trust the first-years on my hall put in my confidentiality.
I discovered that this trust was not just held by the first-years on my hall, but also peers in the greater Washington and Lee community. Because I was a part of the Peer Counseling program, people outside of my hall started to open up about their issues. Hearing about the serious problems that people have on a regular basis was overwhelming at first. But it did not take me long to realize that this trust was a perfect example of the sort of “close-knit community” my RA talked about the first day I met him. I realized that being a peer counselor did not just bring me closer to the 12 first-years on my hall, but it made me feel closer to the community as a whole.
Although I often hear the problems that people have at Washington and Lee, I have never been discouraged about the campus community. A major part of the peer counselor’s job is to make sure that students in need are aware of the resources available. For any issue, from homesickness to academic problems, there are several places they can go for support, including their peer counselor. I have found that the deans, the Student Health Center, and the Counseling Center, along with other administrative resources, place students’ needs first and strive to find the best solution for someone who is struggling. Working with these different groups of professionals has been one of my favorite aspects of being a peer counselor.
I would be remiss to not mention the community within the group of peer counselors. The group is kind, motivated and quirky. The peer counselors are purposely diverse, so the program has given us an opportunity to make friends outside of our normal social groups. Despite our differences, we share a passion for helping others through tough times, a similarity that makes our friendships as deep as the topics we discuss.