Peer Allies shifts away from voluntary student labor

By Albert Chang-Yoo

The following story discusses themes of sexual violence and abuse. If you are someone you know needs resources, please refer to the end of this piece. Peer Allies, the University of Puget Sound’s student support group for victims of sexual violence, has historically relied on voluntary, unpaid student labor. Now, that standard is set to change. Starting this semester, the University has authorized the creation of three paid Peer Ally positions with more extensive training, with the hope of reducing student burnout and fostering a healthier environment for Peer Allies and survivors.

  The University website states that “Peer Allies are a peer-to-peer student support group that seek to provide a safe space for survivors of sexual violence by listening, and to support students who have felt powerless.” Peer Allies are an entirely confidential resource. 

  The University recently released their Annual Security Report, which found that in 2021 there was one reported case of stalking, one reported case of dating violence, three reported cases of rape and two reported cases of unwanted fondling. It is important to note that only 20% of college-age females report sexual assault according to Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. Federal law requires reporting of only the certain type of incident, so details are not shared. All reported incidents occurred on-campus. 

  Before this semester, Peer Allies was designated as an ASUPS club, meaning it received funding and oversight through ASUPS. Now Peer Allies functions under the Center for Student Support. Evie Babbie, fourth-year, who worked as a Peer Ally during the Fall of 2021, explained the challenges that Peer Allies faced as an ASUPS club, saying “We had to book rooms just like any other ASUPS clubs, so finding space and time to be able to use the Kilworth [Chapel] room, I think was a big challenge for the President and Vice President of the club.” Babbie now occupies one of the three paid Peer Ally positions.

  Peer Allies staff used to range from around 10-20 student volunteers who were expected to loosely host 1-2 office hours each week. Now, with three standard paid positions there will be around 18 hours of scheduled office hours per week. The anticipated start for new Peer Allies is October 24th. 

  Eric Hetland became the Director of Student Support in July. When he examined last year’s Peer Allies data, he found “there would be anywhere from six to 10 students coming through a month. When you average that out — that’s two people a week.”

  Hetland explained that having, “someone disclose an issue of sexual misconduct, sexual violence,” is a very challenging setup. Peer Allies can be dramatically affected by their work: “we hear this term, vicarious trauma–it takes a toll on the other receiver. Same thing happens with counselors, all these other mental health professionals, it can have quite an emotional burden.”

  “Peer Allies are going through way more training than we ever have in the past. And because we have staff support, I think there will just be more conversation between us and the administration than there was before,” Babbie said. “I know in the spring there wasn’t really a faculty or staff member helping out with peer allies and it was really student-run and student-led.”

  Hetland wanted to emphasize the importance of getting funding: “That point that I think gets raised by a lot of students is all the different ways where there is this either implicit or unspoken, expectation around unpaid labor on the campus… so that was something that the administration of the university was hearing and said, ‘Yes, this is a resource that needs to exist, and we need to fund it.’”

Babbie echoed Hetland’s sentiment. “I think that the paid aspect of it will hopefully make it so that peer allies are able to put more of their energy into the position. I think in the past, because it was a volunteer position, people got burnt out really easily and didn’t feel like they had as much time and energy to do the role… because it’s paid we also will be able to spend more of our time doing the role as opposed to only doing the role for two hours, technically, per week. I’m hoping that it has some really positive effects.” Hetland will evaluate the need for more Peer Allies after this fiscal year, but hopes that the current positions will be able to provide an effective support mechanism for the 2022-23 academic term. “If we need to add more roles, I think that’s something that the university is certainly open to figuring out.” More information about Peer Allies can be found on the Peer Allies Instagram page, by contacting the Center for Student Support, or by emailing peerallies@ ways to remain connected. The bravery of journalists like Hamedi has enabled the exchange of protest footage and commentary that is sweeping across the internet. Videos from protests circulate across social media platforms, depicting flames The current uprisings have united