After nearly 50 years of providing peer counseling for students, EARS was forced to stop counseling services late in the fall because of technical difficulties. Now, the pause on peer counseling may become permanent.
As Cornell administration worked to transfer EARS supervision from the Dean of Students Office to the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives, it discovered that the University’s insurance does not cover peer counseling.
Cornell has stated that university mental health services do not solely rely on peer counseling. In recent years, EARS provided counseling for less than one percent of the student population, while over 20 percent of Cornell undergraduates seek help at Cornell Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services each year.
However, according to multiple current and former EARS trainees, the end of peer counseling leaves a gap in mental health resources at Cornell.
“Oftentimes, peer to peer is more helpful and more insightful,” said Tyler Brown ’22, who plans to complete EARS training despite the end of peer counseling at Cornell. “It’s someone who’s talking to you on a very equitable playing field, given that you have similar insights and experiences because of similar ages.”
Brown has coped with anxiety and depression in the past, and has found difficulty both accessing mental health treatment and finding a therapist who suits his needs at CAPS.
Skyla Carmon ’22 completed three semesters of EARS training but will never get the chance to work as an EARS counselor. She believes that the end of peer counseling is a loss for campus.
Like Brown, Carmon has dealt with anxiety and depression. She has often heard complaints about Cornell Health’s counseling services from her friends and classmates. According to Carmon, students seeking mental health assistance from EARS struggle to find appointments with CAPS or want more time to talk.
“Even though we’re not trained mental health professionals, I think that we have the competency and the training to at least listen and validate people’s feelings,” Carmon said.
According to EARS co-executive coordinator Felisha Li ’22, EARS plans to continue offering training and outreach services, teaching listening and peer support skills to both individual students and student organizations.
“The three pillars of EARS have been counseling, training and outreach,” Li said. “With counseling no longer being viable, we mainly directed our focus towards training and outreach.
According to Li, she and other members of the student leadership team are working to support trainees, former counselors and alumni as they cope with news of the shutdown. Li asked for the public’s understanding as the organization processes the news and adapts its program.
“This is not the end of an organization we love so much, and as long as there is a need for empathy and connection, there will be a need for EARS,” Li said. “As to exactly what kind of work we’re able to pursue in the future, that’s uncertain. We haven’t had the time yet to fully explore options.”
Some students involved in Cornell mental health services are optimistic for the future of EARS. Bianca Beckwith ’22, president of Cornell Minds Matter, another campus organization which works to support student mental health, is hopeful about the possibilities of peer support focused on empathetic listening and referrals to resources.
According to Beckwith, CAPS can provide the students who previously relied on EARS with more long term care, while EARS student staff continue to help their peers in other ways, including, but not limited to, training.
“They can really reimagine what it means to be peer support,” Beckwith said.
While they did not get a chance to work as peer counselors, Brown, Carmon and other trainees are all still glad they have participated in EARS training.
“Even though I can’t be a counselor it [training] did really help strengthen a lot of my relationships outside of being a counselor,” Carmon said. “I’ve learned how to be a better listener, an active listener.”