Plan of Action: New EARS Model

“Conservative estimates indicate that 20-35% of college students may face mental health challenges of varying severity during their years in college,” according to the Cornell Mental Health Review Final Report, released April 2020. The pandemic has only exacerbated strains on student mental health support. One peer-reviewed study from September 2020 found that 71% of surveyed students reported increased stress and anxiety due to COVID-19. 

 

Cornell Empathy, Assistance & Referral Service (EARS) has been on the front lines of improving mental health on campus for over 50 years. Now, in light of a changing insurance climate and a mandate to reimagine the services that we provide, EARS is excited to announce that it has reimagined and will be implementing a new model of peer support on campus. EARS is more determined than ever to serve our Cornell community by bringing our support closer to students. Though Peer Counseling will no longer be offered, we are thrilled to outline the future of EARS through a new model of peer mentoring, training, and outreach. 

 

There are several notable distinctions between Peer Counseling and Peer Mentoring. First, the former EARS Peer Counseling model assumed a formal, established counselor-client relationship which carried an implicit power dynamic. With the new Peer Mentoring model, the relationship is informal––just what one would expect between peers! Conversations with an EARS Peer Mentor will be more casual and less structured than they were with a Peer Counselor.

 

Second, EARS Peer Counseling was epitomized by the motto 'any person, any issue.' That is no longer appropriate. Formerly, people outside of the Cornell community were able to use EARS' peer counseling service (and indeed, comprised many calls to the EARS hotline). Now, EARS Peer Mentoring services will be offered to current Cornell undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Furthermore, Peer Mentors will not be positioned to assist with any issue. Students who are in need of clinical counseling services or who are in a crisis (e.g. experiencing suicidal ideation) should not seek EARS Peer Mentoring but rather professional help. EARS Peer Mentoring is not a clinical or crisis service. Rather, EARS Peer Mentoring is a great opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation, discuss strategies, or learn about resources for topics pertaining to the student experience and well-being (e.g. managing stress, social support). For clinical and crisis services, please refer to the resources linked here.

 

On that note, if a Peer Mentor has good reason to believe that the person using the service is in crisis (e.g. talk of harming oneself or others), then the Peer Mentor would need to consult professional staff. Otherwise, what’s discussed during a Peer Mentoring conversation stays in that conversation. EARS is and has always been committed to maintaining privacy.

 

These changes reflect a greater commitment to embed empathy into broader and more diverse communities that already exist on campus. With Peer Mentoring, EARS can make its services more accessible to the Cornell student body with drop-in hours across multiple locations, meaning that EARS’ presence is expanding beyond Willard Straight Hall. Drop-in Peer Mentoring hours are in-person, free, and no appointment necessary. EARS is also excited to announce that it is ending its anonymity policy, meaning that EARS staff members are no longer anonymous. This change is in the spirit of EARS providing more informal peer-to-peer mentorship, increasing visibility as advocates for student mental health and well-being, and reducing stigma around seeking mental health support by promoting empathy and active listening skills embedded in supportive peer relationships. Finally, in efforts to increase visibility, reach, and diversity, EARS is introducing two new roles, through which staff and affiliated students will be eligible to serve already-existing groups on campus.

 

These two roles are “Empathy Chair” and “EARS Liaison.” These two positions serve the same purpose: to act as a point person for promoting effective listening, empathy, communication, social connection and well-being within a group on campus. Clubs, organizations, groups, and athletic teams are invited to make the decision to designate a person to serve in this voluntary role within their leadership teams. “Empathy Chairs” are external to EARS: if you want to be the point person for your group, EARS offers a one-semester training course and orientation to equip you with the skills you need to promote active listening, communication, social connection, and well-being within your group. “EARS Liaisons” are internal to EARS (staff members) who have completed two semesters of training and passed the required staff evaluation process. EARS Liaisons therefore have more practice before taking on the role and can serve groups of which they are not already a part. 

 

If you’re interested in becoming an EARS Peer Mentor, an EARS Liaison, or an Empathy Chair for your group on campus, we highly encourage you to sign up for EARS training this Fall of 2021! More information about training can be found here.

 

If you’re interested in reaching out to learn more about the difference between Peer Counseling and Peer Mentoring, send us an email at ears@cornell.edu.