Fall 2021 Updates
Cornell’s Empathy, Assistance, and Referral Service (EARS) will launch an updated model of peer support in Fall 2021. As a student-led organization, EARS is committed to building communities of support, belonging, and well-being at Cornell.
EARS has reimagined its services through a new model of peer mentoring, training, 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 three new positions — EARS Peer Mentors, Empathy Chairs, and EARS Liaisons — 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.
What is EARS Peer Mentoring?
- In Fall 2021, EARS will pilot free, drop-in mentoring hours for Cornell undergraduate, graduate, and professional students at various accessible and “go to” locations on campus.
- Drop-in mentoring interactions will be informal, flexible and casual student-to-student conversations with an EARS Peer Mentor who is trained to be a good listener and communicator.
- EARS Peer Mentors will provide active listening and empathy through informal conversations on specific themes/topics common to the student experience (e.g., adjusting to college/grad school, stress, academic demands, social connections, identity, bias) and get students connected to relevant resources (e.g., academic, career, identity-based, health and wellness-related).
- The goal is to create warm, approachable, and inclusive spaces where students can feel heard and connect with other students to promote a sense of belonging, support, and access to a wide variety of well-being resources.
How is EARS Peer Mentoring different from Peer Counseling?
- There are fundamental differences between “peer counseling” and “peer mentoring.” The 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.
- Going forward:
- 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 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!
What is an EARS Empathy Chair?
Beginning Fall 2021, EARS will recruit and train new “Empathy Chairs” in an effort to extend peer listening and empathy skills to diverse student groups and communities. An Empathy Chair will be a visible and trusted member of a student group on campus (e.g., club, organization, athletic team) who will serve as a point person for promoting effective listening, empathy, communication, and well-being. Empathy Chairs will work to ensure that students can find a sense of belonging within their respective group(s) and actively promote well-being resources.
- EARS will offer Cornell students the opportunity to train to become an “Empathy Chair” within their respective student groups and organizations. By training and embedding student leaders who are equipped with core EARS skills within the student body, EARS seeks to expand its outreach and ability to positively influence campus culture change.
- To become an Empathy Chair, students will complete one semester of training (EARS Beginning Training) and a brief orientation in order to serve in this role. While all student 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.
- This newly-developing program will be piloted in Spring 2022. Specifically, EARS will recruit and train its first cohort of student leaders this fall, who will begin serving as Empathy Chairs in the spring.
What is an EARS Liaison?
This is a newly-developing program that will be piloted in Fall 2021. EARS Liaisons will be current EARS members who can act as a point person for peer listening, empathy, and well-being resources for a student group that would like to incorporate this leadership role, but don’t have a member who has completed the requisite training to be an Empathy Chair.
- EARS Liaisons will be paired with student groups requesting peer consultation and support and will serve in this role for an agreed upon period of time.
- To serve in this role, EARS Liaisons must be have successfully completed two semesters of training (EARS Beginning and Advanced Training).
Is it true that EARS is dropping its anonymity policy?
Yes, EARS is ending its longstanding “anonymity policy,” meaning that EARS members can publicly share with the Cornell campus community that they are EARS 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 supportive 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 does the reimagined EARS model support recommendations identified in the Mental Health Review?
The reimagined EARS model supports several of the key areas and recommendations identified in Cornell’s Mental Health Review. EARS training —along with the newly reimagined Peer Mentoring, Peer Liaisons, and Empathy Chair programs— will support the major Mental Health Review themes of promoting social connectedness and resilience (i.e., Section B) and increasing help-seeking behavior and identifying people in need of care (i.e., Section C).
- Through offering drop-in peer mentoring conversations in central locations on campus, EARS seeks to create and expand spaces for meaningful interactions among students (B.3.6), reduce stigma, and promote campus resources (C.1.6).
- Through making peer-to-peer conversations more accessible and training and embedding Empathy Chairs and Liaisons within a wide range of student groups, the new model aims to expand outreach and social connection to students with diverse interests, backgrounds, and identities; including those with identities that have been marginalized (e.g., BIPOC, LGBTQ+, first gen, international students; B.1.4).
- Through formally extending EARS training in active listening, empathy, and resource giving skills to members from external student groups, the Empathy Chairs program will offer opportunities for student organizations to support campus-based student resilience, social connection, and help seeking efforts (B.3.5)
How do I connect with a peer mentor?
- Drop-in peer mentoring will be offered at various times and locations on campus and will be posted on the EARS website at the beginning of the fall semester
- EARS peer-support offerings to be reimagined (Cornell Chronicle, Feb. 23, 2021)