Cornell's Empathy, Assistance, and Referral Service (EARS) began a new model of peer support in Fall 2021. EARS is a student-run organization wholeheartedly committed to building communities of support, belonging, and well-being at Cornell.
What is the new EARS model?
EARS has reimagined its services through a new model of peer mentoring, support, and outreach which involves meeting students “where they are,” building relationships, and integrating EARS-trained students into diverse communities on campus.
EARS will be piloting two new positions — EARS Peer Mentors and Empathy Chairs — that will expand the organization’s outreach to Cornell undergraduate, graduate, and professional student communities.
EARS will continue to offer training and workshops in active listening, empathy, and communication skills to the campus community.
Through its peer mentoring, training, outreach, and student leadership-development programs, EARS aims to foster empathy, advocate for mental health and well-being, and ensure that any student can find connections at Cornell.
Is it true that EARS is dropping its anonymity policy?
Yes. EARS is ending its longstanding "anonymity policy", meaning that EARS staff can publicly share with the Cornell campus community that they are EARS staff members. This change is being made in the spirit of EARS providing more informal peer-to-peer mentorship, increasing visibility as role models and advocates for student mental health, and reducing stigma around seeking help, support, and connection. EARS hopes to encourage and normalize the value of having open and supporting conversations by training and integrating visible and approachable student leaders throughout the campus community. By promoting and embedding empathy, support, and listening skills within highly visible, accessible, and diverse spaces, EARS hopes to have a broader, community-based impact to support campus culture change.
How can I get involved with EARS?
Whether your final goal is to become a staff member, an Empathy Chair, or simply develop your empathy skills, the first thing to do is to sign up for Beginning Training! Training (at all levels) is offered every semester and more information can be found on our training page. If you have any other questions, please contact us at email@example.com.
Who can get involved with EARS?
Anyone who is Cornell-affiliated (e.g., Cornell students, faculty, and staff) can attend our Training sessions or request Workshops to develop their listening skills; however, only Cornell students (Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional) can become staff member or make use of our Peer Mentoring services.
How do I become a staff member and what does that entail?
EARS staff members are Cornell students (Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional) who have successfully completed Beginning and Advanced Training and the related staff evaluation process. Once you become a staff member, you are eligible to become a Peer Mentor, EARS Liaison, or get involved with EARS in other behind-the-scenes opportunities.
Who can participate in training?
Any member of the Cornell Community (student, faculty, and staff) who wants to:
Become a better listener
Become a better leader
Make friends from across campus in a supportive and caring environment
Gain valuable life skills and develop both personally and professionally
Acquire confidence and skill in communicating with others
Prepare to become a Peer Mentor and/or Empathy Chair
Does Beginning and Advanced Training have to be taken consecutively?
No, as long as Advanced Training is taken after successful completion of Beginning Training, you are free to take as many or as few semesters break between Beginning and Advanced -- as long as you are still an official member of the Cornell community when you sign up for both Trainings.
Do I have to become a staff member after Advanced Training?
While the curriculum of Advanced Training is geared toward preparing trainees to fulfill the future roles of staff members, becoming a staff member is not required after Training.
Who can become an EARS staff member?
While Training is open to any student of the Cornell community, staff membership is limited to currently enrolled Cornell students (Undergraduate, Graduate, and Professional).
How has training changed?
Since EARS no longer offers peer counseling and has reimagined its services to reflect peer support through peer mentorship, Training will no longer teach a formalized structure of counseling. Instead, Training will focus on equipping trainees with strong listening, communication, empathy, and referral skills so that they can provide support, mentorship, and leadership skills in their respective social circles and/or organizations. The essence and foundation of EARS training will stay the same in that we will still teach how to become an empathetic listener, but the focus, scope, and skills will be adjusted to align with the goals of peer mentorship.
Do I need new training if I received Beginning Training under the old model but not yet Advanced Training?
No. Although the Beginning Training material has changed to align with the new goals of peer mentorship, an overview of all skills (including any changes) will be reviewed at the beginning of Advanced Training. You can continue to sign up for Advanced Training if you intend to join EARS staff.
How do I become a Peer Mentor?
Peer Mentors are EARS staff members who have gone through Beginning and Advanced Training, as well as the evaluation process.
How do I become a Peer Mentee?
Any Cornell student (Undergraduate, Graduate, or Professional) who wishes to attend Peer Mentor drop-in hours and receive support can be a Peer Mentee.
Is the Peer Mentor-Mentee relationship short or long-term?
In line with the drop-in nature of EARS Peer Mentoring hours, the Peer Mentor-Mentee relationship is brief rather than long-term; however, since Peer Mentors will serve in various locations at certain times, Mentees may choose to drop by and speak to the same Mentor if they wish.
How is Peer Mentoring different from the previous Peer Counseling?
There are fundamental differences between “Peer Counseling” and “Peer Mentoring.” This shift from “Peer Counselor” to “Peer Mentor” is not just semantic - but rather - involves significant changes in the nature of the relationship, focus, and scope of these roles and the type of support EARS can provide. These changes are reflected in more balanced power dynamics, and a more defined audience and scope of engagement.
Before: The former Peer Counseling model assumed a more formal, established Peer Counselor-client relationship which carried an implicit power dynamic. Sessions generally followed a specific structure and the Peer Counselors remained anonymous.
Going forward: With the new Peer Mentoring model, the relationship is informal – just what one would expect between peers! Conversations with EARS Peer Mentors will be casual, informal, and flexible, and Peer Mentors and students may relate on many levels other than age – such as major/program, interests, life experiences, and or/personal, social, and cultural identities. In line with this shift, EARS will publish member bios on their website so that students can get to know the peers they will be talking to.
Before: EARS Peer Counseling services were formally epitomized by the motto “any person, any issue,” which led to some support being offered to non-Cornell community members.
Going forward: The new Peer Mentoring drop-in hours will be exclusively offered to current Cornell undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. This will allow EARS to better support its intended audience: the Cornell student body.
Before: EARS Peer Counseling was positioned as being able to assist with any issue.
EARS Peer Mentors will listen, support, and provide resources to students on topics/themes pertaining to the student experience and well-being (e.g. managing stress, social support, general emotional well-being).
If students need counseling or help with issues outside the scope of Peer Mentoring (e.g., clinical concerns, thoughts of suicide), EARS Peer Mentors will refer them to professional resources.
A word about privacy: EARS is and has always been committed to maintaining privacy. If a Peer Mentor has good reason to believe that a student is in crisis or at risk of harming themselves or others, then the Peer Mentor would need to consult with a professional resource. Otherwise, what’s discussed during a Peer Mentoring conversation stays in that conversation. EARS Peer Mentors will be trained to openly and clearly discuss these boundaries – if students have any questions or concerns, just ask!
Would it be awkward if my Peer Mentor is younger than I am?
EARS is about having a space to feel heard and to connect -- where experience with peer support matters more than age. Peer Mentors and Mentees may relate on many different levels other than age-- such as major, interests, life experiences, and/or personal, social, and cultural identity.
How do I become an Empathy Chair?
Empathy Chairs are designated members of an organization who have undergone either 1) EARS Beginning Training and an orientation hosted by EARS OR 2) the Empathy Chair Workshops. While all organizations and groups are warmly welcomed and encouraged to incorporate "Empathy Chairs", it is important to note that this is a completely voluntary leadership role.
Do I need to join EARS to become an Empathy Chair?
Empathy Chairs are students who choose to complete Beginning EARS training to serve in this leadership role. While Empathy Chairs will be required to successfully complete one semester of EARS training or the Empathy Chair Workshops, they are not required to become EARS staff members to serve in this role. With that said, if an Empathy Chair decides they would like to complete the requirements to become a full EARS staff member (successfully complete Beginning and Advanced Training and the staff evaluation), they will be warmly welcomed to do so.
Is the Empathy Chair training a replacement for Beginning training? Can I enroll in Advanced training after completing the Empathy Chair training?
No. Beginning training takes a more in-depth approach to the EARS skills that will better serve you for continuing onto Advanced training. If you are considering Advanced training and/or joining EARS staff, we highly recommend enrolling in Beginning training instead of the Empathy Chair Workshops, so you have the option of Advanced training available to you. Additionally, there is more time for community building in Beginning training! However, the Empathy Chair Workshops is ideal for those who want to learn core empathetic listening & mental health support skills in a shorter time frame with the intention of serving as an Empathy Chair.