Home Campus Peer Support The Case for Peer Support on Campus Peer support on campus: what, how, who and where?

Peer support on campus: what, how, who and where?

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What: scope and definition

The term “peer programs” is used as an umbrella to describe all programs that offer emotional, social and/or academic support from one student to another on post-secondary campuses (peer counselling, peer education, peer helpers, peer tutors, peer mentors, peer coaches, etc.). Peer programs therefore play an integral role within post-secondary education as they encompass many aspects of student life.

Peer support programs involve at least two individuals with a shared or similar experience engaging in a relationship for the development and growth of both parties.

Often these programs or groups are formed around a specific population, such as:

  • Marginalized groups based on race or sexual orientation
  • Common experiences (such as sexual violence)
  • Common mental health challenges or experiences (stress, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.)
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Who: roles and relationships

Here are examples of how the relationship can be defined between the peer supporter and the student they are supporting:

  • Supporter: the program provides a trained peer supporter to guide and empathize with students
  • Advocate: the program provides a trained peer supporter to speak in support of a student who would benefit from assistance in advocating for their needs to be met
  • Referral: the program provides information and navigation support to promote better access to services
  • Mutual aid: the program organizes a space where students can support one another
  • Education: the program provides a trained peer supporter to facilitate education with fellow students

In the following sections of this document, we will use the term of “peer supporter” as a catch-all for a wide array of terms institutions may use, such as “peer mentors,” “connectors,” “peer navigators” or “peer counsellors.

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How: one-on-one and group support

Determining whether one-on-one or group peer support services are offered should be based on student needs. This information can be gathered via a needs assessment (see “Needs assessment” section).

Ideally, both one-on-one and group peer support services will be made available. Some students will benefit from the confidentiality, intimacy and responsiveness of one-on-one peer support. Other students will appreciate the camaraderie that comes with group peer support, as well as the opportunity to hear multiple experiences and perspectives. Students may also appreciate being able to listen to other participants’ experiences rather than intimately sharing their own. Group peer
support has the obvious benefit of being able to support multiple participants within a set time period, while one-on-one peer support will logically only offer support to one participant at a time. That said, the intentionality within one-on-one peer support may allow for improved participant outcomes. Furthermore, the ability to measure participant outcomes may be easier within individual support.

Beyond one-on-one or group support, peer programming can also involve reaching out to students through specific events. This form of peer support involves one or more peer supporters with any number of students at a single event, such as a workshop or presentation.

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Where: peer support spaces

Important considerations for physical space planning are the type and intensity of your peer support program:

  • Is your campus able to provide confidential and private space for one-on-one peer support?
  • Is that space easily accessible for students? Do they feel comfortable accessing it?

One-on-one peer support may require a lot more privacy for students to feel safe sharing their experience. However, private and confidential spaces may be a barrier in terms of accessibility as these spaces are typically less visible to students. Students would also have to identify themselves in order to access the service. In contrast, peer support programs held in a more public location or during events are more accessible for students, but can cause challenges in terms of confidentiality.

Do you have the right space for the right intensity of your peer support program?
If you have no designated space on campus, here are some other options to consider:

  • Does the program have access to the counselling department for private one-on-one sessions, thus providing a greater level of confidentiality?
  • Are the program’s peer supporters able to book classrooms for educational events or workshops?
  • Does the peer program have the ability to acquire space during mental health week and/or orientation week?
  • Can you partner with a student group or student union to book/rent space?
Guide: PDF Version