The College of Wooster already boasts help resources like the Learning Center, Information Technology and the Safety and Security Office. This fall, however, a new group will be providing an entirely different kind of support for Wooster students: a network of their peers who have volunteered to help others struggling with issues of sexuality.
The group was initiated at the end of last year by Clint Steinbrunner ’08, who contacted Longbrake Student Wellness Center and worked with the staff there to establish the group’s objectives and recruit student mentors. Although he graduated in May, Steinbrunner recently returned to campus to oversee the group’s training and turn the helm over to its new leader, Tyler Croxall ’11.
Val Spektor ’10, one of the student mentors, said that she chose to be in the group because she was drawn to the idea of making a difference in her peers’ lives. “I really like talking to people and helping people,” she said. She added that the group takes on a special role at a school like Wooster, saying, “I think that it’s really important on a campus as small as this one is.”
George Myatt ’11 added that the fact that this group is made up of peers, not professional counselors, allows it to be more effective. “I feel that it’s important [for students] to discuss these issues with someone close to their own age,” he said.
Although several of the mentors are also involved in Allies & Queers, a campus organization for LGBTQ students and friends, the support group is not affiliated with A & Q. Frances Wilson ’11, who is currently a part of the A & Q program house, pointed out that the two groups serve different purposes. “There’s a need for a group like this. It’s more of an emergency outreach, not a continuous thing [like A & Q].”
During their five-day-long training, the eight mentors received instruction on basic counseling skills as well as information on dealing specifically with issues of sexuality and gender. Like any good liberal-arts course, the session was a multi-disciplinary one: the mentors learned about the history of LGBTQ concerns and also hosted a panel of members of different religious faiths to find out how sexuality is regarded across spiritual and religious ideologies. The training was capped off with a series of mock training sessions, in which the mentors traded scripts and roles to simulate real counseling discussions.
For many members, including Steinbrunner himself, the group meets a need that they themselves have felt in the past. Mike MacDonald ’09 said that he joined the group because he remembered his own experience so vividly. “I would have really enjoyed having someone to talk to,” he recalled. “I want to be that person who helps others.”
The sexuality support group is available to all students struggling with issues of sexuality, be it their own or that of a friend or family member. Students wishing to receive support can contact the Wellness Center or be referred via a general counselor, and also have the option of contacting a mentor directly. The Wellness Center has brief biographies of each member on file, and students may request to see these biographies in order to determine which mentor is best prepared to meet their needs.