BACCHUS Initiatives Staff
February 17, 2017
Peer educators can be an essential component of health promotion initiatives on campus. If your campus doesn’t currently have active peer educators, it can feel daunting to start a group from scratch. Megan Byas, the Fitness Coordinator at Loyola University New Orleans and Jenny Rabas, the Alcohol Tobacco, and Other Drugs Program Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reflect on their own experiences forming a peer education group. The BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA also have some additional resources that may help.
Megan Byas- Fitness Coordinator at Loyola University New Orleans (peer education group: Health Advocates)
As I reflect on my experience of forming a peer education group at Loyola University New Orleans, I wish I had a better understanding of the distinct differences in working with a student organization and working with a peer educator group. While both groups consist of students, they have different approaches in terms of the goals they are trying to accomplish on campus. I feel I could have been more successful if I knew the best way to help provide additional learning resources that my students could share, while discussing these hot button topics such as alcohol and sexual violence.
One of the major challenges I faced initially was working with a smaller group of peer educators than other schools. We have only 7 active members who have been participating since inception. Some students have withdrawn their commitment to Health Advocates due to numerous other factors. As an advisor, I also struggled from time to time, balancing the creativity of our students while trying to deliver certain messages.
Even though the Health Advocates group is fairly new, and rather small, success for our Health Advocates has been great! Their recognition from students, faculty, and staff alike have been well received. We received a few comments about the wording of our talks and presentations, and are making a conscience effort to be mindful of our language with well-thought out scripts. However, all in all, our programs have been successful in reaching out to the student body! We are even getting requested for our services within the first year.
A major learning opportunity for me in establishing a peer education group was gaining a realistic approach to how much we should budget for such a group on campus. While their programming is not extravagant, it still cost money for certain materials. Budgeting has certainly been part of the learning process.
Jenny Rabas- Alcohol, Tobacco, and other Drugs Program Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (peer education group: Badgers Step Up!)
Starting a new peer group can be challenging but also really exciting! Every peer group I’ve advised was also a registered student organization (RSO). Campuses can have different requirements for RSOs but most require: members, a constitution, and an advisor. The reason I like this model is because RSOs are often (not always) supported by an office on campus devoted to student leadership and usually benefit from being a RSO. For example, one university I worked at allowed RSOs to apply for grants to help them function, and another allowed RSOs to send emails to all students on campus to promote events or to recruit members. I recommend anyone interested in having your group be an RSO explore the benefits and requirements with your university officials in charge of RSOs.
The other piece I recommend when forming a new peer education group is a constitution. This document is important because it acts as a foundation of what your organization is and what it stands for. A constitution can include officer positions descriptions so those in charge of the group have a clearly defined role and can be held accountable. It can also help new members understand the mission of the group and how you operate. As an advisor, you can outline an elections/interview process and give your group guidelines for various policies and procedures.
Things like a logo, name, and members are also important, as well as finding an advisor and funding. That’s why I advocate for working with your university employees who do work in prevention or have teaching interests in health and wellness. Best of luck to those starting new groups. The work you’re doing is important in creating a healthy campus!
Establishing a peer education group will look different on every campus, and will be influenced by many factors (budgeting, student involvement, support from other stakeholders on campus). Continue the conversation below- what things have you found helpful when starting? Is there an issue on campus you would like to hear more about? Email the BACCHUS Team with your suggestions!
The B-log highlights important peer education advising concepts. These “essentials” articles are featured here periodically, though you can always find them archived on the BACCHUS Homepage.
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