By Michael Kaplan
This summer I counseled 11-year olds and taught sailing and windsurfing for two months at a boysâ camp in Northern Wisconsin. I have a newfound respect for my mother because I can only imagine what I was like at 11 years old. The camp environment forced 11 year olds to help each other and trust each other. These boys argued, but they had to work out their arguments because they had to live with each other. They reached out and listened to one another when one had a bad day or when one was homesick. It was real, genuine peer support.
It has become apparent to me in the last couple of months that our support system is truly flawed. The idea of having a support system where students can share their dilemmas and problems is an invaluable part of our schoolâs environment. Peer Support is a place where students can thrive, grow and really come to terms with their identity. Yet there are some issues that the leadership of the program must address.
From casual member to coordinator, hypocrisy consistently finds a way to permeate the program. Members of Peer Support spend weekly sessions listening to other studentsâ dilemmas and try to help them come to terms with their issues; however, in the following days these same members will then boast to others about how they acquired a juicy piece of gossip but they canât share it because of Big C.
Shouldnât they want to protect the information out of respect for the person who entrusted them with this valuable piece of drunken weekend drama?
Throughout the history of Peer Support there have been and continue to be students who are in the leadership and are open about their homosexuality. Fellow leaders and trainees will work alongside these members in Peer Support sessions, but then use the term âgayâ to deride someone or to describe a disagreeable situation outside of Peer Support when their homosexual colleague is not around. It rings of hypocrisy to work with someone and then make fun of their lifestyle behind their back.
Leaders and trainees should be role models not only on Monday nights, but also should set an example on Friday and Saturday nights, when morality and integrity are not always present. They should not be the ones going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning after semiformal.
Respect for those who truly benefit from the program, those who confide in their leaders, trainees and fellow students must occur for the system to have an effect. Students participating in Peer Support need to start practicing what they preach and realize that âBig Câ does not exist to create a feeling of self-importance among those participating in this weekly ritual. Their dedication toward the well-being of other people should not just be limited to an hour-and-a-half on Monday night.
Peer Support should be built on integrity and trust instead of superiority and gossip because letâs face it, like it or not, we all have to live with each other, and not just on Monday nights.