Looking Back: Interpersonal Violence Peer Support volunteers reflect on their first year

Tehreem Shahab

Since its opening last fall, the Interpersonal Violence Peer Support Program has had 15 peers volunteer for the program. For next year, the program will see a slight increase in the number of volunteers who are already in the process of being trained, at 17 people. 

One of the program’s distinct qualities is its confidential support system for survivors, which is run by student volunteers, also known as peers. These volunteers are trained to provide students with different resources available on or off campus when it comes to dealing with interpersonal violence, giving survivors other options in addition to filing official reports. 

Austin Smith, a government and economics senior and current IVPS peer volunteer, said with 70 hours of training completed, he is now more aware of the different options available on and off campus. 

“There are different resources we have at our disposal here,” Smith said. “I think one of the biggest issues right now is that survivors don’t always know about the different resources that are around — and that’s obviously not their fault. It’s just hard to get that information to the folks that need it.” 

IVPS has been in operation since it began training its first 15 peers last spring, who have been volunteering this school year. The organization got its own office at the beginning of this semester and has already begun training another class of volunteers for next year. 

Smith said each survivor’s experience is unique and should be treated as such. 

“We also learn a lot about how being a survivor of (interpersonal violence) can sort of interact with other identities that people hold,” Smith said. “There are different experiences of folks based on racial bias or homophobia — the catchall word we hear is ‘intersectionality’ … each experience is going to be unique and there are definitely factors that will make accessing resources more difficult for some people.” 

Peer supporter Abigail Kuchek said there are different ways to support the students who come in for appointments with IVPS. Kuchek said this could be listening to someone, offering to help and empowering them to make the decisions that are best for them.

“Supporting others isn’t about always knowing the right thing to say or exactly how to fix everything,” humanities sophomore Kuchek said in an email. “When someone has experienced violence, believing what they tell you and reminding them that what happened isn’t their fault can make a big difference.”

In order to assist students effectively, peers are required to go through over 40 hours of training which covers an overview of sexual assault and interpersonal violence. Experts from different agencies such as the Counseling and Mental Health Center, SAFE alliance and the Gender and Sexuality Center train peers. 

IVPS student coordinator Mia Goldstein said she wants to continue spreading awareness about the program. Goldstein said she wanted to also have an educational component where IVPS goes to different student organizations to talk about the program and methods of prevention. 

“On a campus with 51,000 people it’s hard to do the outreach that enables everyone to know about the resources,” said Goldstein, a radio-television-film and Plan II Honors junior. “My main goal for next year is to increase our outreach, make sure as many people as possible know about it and just keep doing what we’re doing as a program.”