The Office of Multicultural Affairs is now available to chat.
A pilot program called Queer Peers and Allies now allows students to anonymously connect with peer advisers, similar to Nightline—but instead of calling a phone number, students talk via a secure online chat, adding another layer of privacy.
“Campus is really great about taking care of the macro issues that address the queer community, but we’re here to take care of the personal issues,” said one peer adviser, who asked not to be named because of the anonymous nature of the program.
The new program is coordinated by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Columbia’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and currently has 10 student advisers staffing the online chat three nights each week. Lea Robinson, assistant director of LGBT programming and advising in OMA, said she hopes to attract more users by doubling the number of advisers next semester and adjusting the chat hours.
“It is only going to become more of a resource, especially around times with high stress levels like midterms … We want to make sure we’re creating spaces students can feel safe in and where students can get the support that they need,” she said.
The anonymity of the program is one of its key aspects. While the online chat does require students to submit their UNI in case a dangerous situation arises, neither the students seeking help nor the queer peers know each other’s names.
“It’s trying to create some sort of programming that maybe speaks more to confidentiality, to more private spaces,” Robinson said. “Students may feel more comfortable getting online and chatting with someone about things going on as opposed to stepping in to a meeting or coming to a program.”
One of the peer advisers said that she would have taken advantage of the service had it existed previously.
“A lot of times people think since so many people are out and fine, it’s not a big deal, but it still is a big deal for a good deal of people,” she said.
While Queer Peers and Allies is new this semester, it has been in the works for several years.
The process began with Robinson’s predecessor, Kerry Poynter, who worked to formulate the program’s mission and obtain funding from the David Bohnett Foundation before leaving in 2008. In spring 2010, OMA developed its relationship with CPS, and it began recruiting and training “queer peers” last year.
“This program was created initially in trying to find a way to support students wherever they are in their own identity,” Robinson said.
Now that the program is up and running, Robinson says she is excited to continue improving.
“We know that the need is there. We’re just continually working to figure out what the program will look like and how to get there,” she said.