April 13, 2007

Service Offers Online Support

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faQ Online, a ‘chat-style’ student-to-student mentoring and support service for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community at Cornell, recently celebrated its first anniversary.
“It’s one of a kind, and it’s the first of its kind in the nation,” said Andrew Lee ’08, student coordinator and co-founder of faQ Online. Lee also serves as a mentor for the service.
Student leaders in Haven began organizing faQ in order to support and reach struggling LGBT students through a medium that is more popular and current. faQ is under the umbrella of Haven, a student organization that works with the Dean of Students Office of Support Services, which focuses on LGBT support and education.
“Just from personal experience, I would have found [faQ] very helpful. Everyone faces those feelings, and talking online is a good way to talk — it reduces the barrier … gets rid of stigma,” said Lee. [img_assist|nid=22878|title=Cookie time|desc=Andrew Lee ’08 and Chelsea Howe ’09 (in computer costume) give out free cookies to publicize faQ Online, an online service for LGBT students.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=67]
Since its start, faQ has grown into an established entity on campus. Last November, it presented its services to other colleges through a workshop at the annual Creating Change conference held by the National Gay Lesbian Task Force in Kansas City, MO. According to Lee, numerous colleges have since expressed interest in establishing a similar service at their respective campuses.
Currently only at Cornell, faQ functions as a support service and focuses on mentorship. Students with questions about sexuality can discuss their concerns online with mentors who share their personal experiences and guide users to other resources that may be of help to them.
“It is more about sharing experiences, not counseling. It is basically a natural and equal dialogue between two people,” said Jamie Sorrentino, assistant dean of students and advisor for faQ Online.
According to Chelsea Howe ’09, faQ functions as a support service for students who may not be ready to identify with the gay community.
“Often times people are afraid to go to some of the LGBT social groups, because they’re not ready to be that out … because they don’t think they’re ‘gay’ enough. faQ Online provides an intermediate step, somewhere people can go to figure out what groups would or wouldn’t be helpful based on what they’re looking for in the community,” said Howe.
Another distinguishing aspect of faQ is the confidentiality and anonymity provided by internet chatting.
“Mentors are unknown to service users, and that’s the way we want to keep it. Not everyone feels comfortable talking, so this allows them to explore,” Sorrentino said. “We do try to provide at least one referral to get them to talk to people.”
According to Howe, an faQ mentor, “The anonymity of the online environment enables people to discuss personal, private matters with a sense of security you really can’t get with face to face mentoring.”
faQ is staffed by 12 LGBT peers and straight allies volunteers, who provide its live, anonymous service from 8 to 11 p.m. on Sundays and Wednesdays during the academic year.
“It’s just like AIM,” said Lee.
Ideally, mentors talk with users on a one-to-one basis. They attend training and monthly meetings where they go through responses to critical situations, pitfalls of online chatting and the power of sharing personal stories. Sorrentino, who is also a private practice therapist, leads the meetings and training sessions.
Aside from providing for the LGBT community, faQ Online is a way for LGBT students to give back.
“It is very fulfilling; [it] feels very nice that I’m making a change on campus,” said Lee. “It also helps me gain perspective on what other issues people are facing in the community.”
In the future, faQ hopes to expand to local high schools and colleges across the country. Students can access faQ at www.faqonline.net.