People of UT Ep 03: Adrian Lancaster

In the second episode of People of UT, audio producer Ryan Borrego chats with Longhorn SHARE creator Adrian Lancaster about his inspiration for creating and maintaining the project.

This episode was hosted, reported and edited by Ryan Borrego. Production assistance and supervision by Maria Probert Hermosillo. Photo by Assad Malik and cover design by Ciara Casarez. Music by BlueDot Sessions. The full transcript can be found below:


*Intro with background music*

Maria: Welcome to People of UT, the show that introduces you to members of the UT community that have made a positive impact (big or small) on other community members. 

*Background music*

Ryan Borrego: Peer support is a critical aspect of a positive university experience. While academic success is an essential part of college life, a strong support system is equally vital to ensure students feel seen, heard, and valued.

For this episode we will be focusing on Adrian Lancaster, who is a Peer Support Project Coordinator at UT Austin. Lancaster oversaw the development of the Longhorn SHARE project from the early stages. 

The Longhorn SHARE Project offers a wide range of peer-led support groups, individual peer support opportunities, and other activities facilitated by trained SHARE Support Specialists and program staff to support UT undergrad and postgrad students with help for mental health concerns.

Adrian Lancaster: It started in technically fall of 2021, I had a group of students that were hired as an advisory group, a student advisory group, because I’m very clearly not a peer. So I couldn’t create something for UT students without like, heavy involvement of UT students. So we met for a couple of hours, every single week, we talked about what the program should look like what UT already had in terms of resources, for students, or for mental health, what other kinds of peer leadership roles already existed…it became about just trusting that students could talk about things that students are facing. And they don’t need to be trained on the things they’re currently experiencing, they can use lived experience, which is the core of peer support, to relate to each other to support each other. Just sort of acknowledging that everybody has wisdom and tools to share with each other to help support each other. And then if we just let students do that, really cool things can happen.

Ryan: The SHARE Project currently has five ways in which they connect with students. Communities, Circles, Drop-In Support, Trainings & Workshops, and Post-Trauma Support & Standby Peer Support. Communities and Circles are innovative ways of fostering a community. SHARE Communities are informal, non-clinical peer support and connection spaces where students can find validation, learn from each other’s experiences, exchange support and resources, and engage in conversation and other activities depending on the particular focus of the Community.  SHARE Circles, on the other hand, are a peer-facilitated group storytelling and connection experience that can be requested for classes, student organizations, residence hall communities, and others.  Finally, the drop-in support, training and workshops, post-trauma support and standby peer support offer more personalized experiences that students can opt for. 

*Real sounds of SHARE event*

Ryan: Lancaster first joined the UT community in 2015. 

Adrian Lancaster: I was an academic advisor in radio television film, which was fun, love them. And in the bridging disciplines, program certificates, like the human rights and social justice certificate and socio social inequality, health and policy, stuff like that.

And then I was a program coordinator with the University Leadership Network program. It’s the kind of scholarship, leadership development program at UT

Ryan: During his time with the ULN, Lancaster saw the need for more opportunities for students to connect with others.

Adrian Lancaster: I started meeting with all of my 500 students in the cohort during the pandemic and just kept hearing the same things over and over again about I’m the only person who’s struggling in this class, or I don’t think anybody knows what this feels like. And if people who had trouble making friends and I would, I would know that there were these two guys that were both interested in Longhorn racing and like, I could just email them to introduce them all the time. And I’m like, if they could just like have a place to do this where I didn’t have to facilitate this. They can I feel like I’m not actually the only person who’s struggling to adjust, find a place to belong, like, feel seen all of that stuff.  

Ryan: The SHARE Project provides emotional support, a sense of belonging, professional and personal development, and opportunities for community building. Lancaster has prioritized creating and promoting peer support to ensure students have access to these important resources, as well as helping train students who are actively trying to help members of the UT community. 

Adrian Lancaster: When I come into my office that has this giant beanbag in the corner, like coming into my office, which I usually leave unlocked, and finding students in it, like I’m not there, they didn’t know I was going to be coming back. And they’re all in there, like working on flyers or talking or getting ready for one of their communities. And the fact that they feel comfortable there makes me feel really good. I like having, you know, a space on campus that feels home for some students. And I like the fact that, you know, these are people that I consider colleagues that I know that in the future, after they graduate, I you know, can work with them again, and would really enjoy doing that. This is the closest I’ve ever worked with students before, especially the folks in the advisory groups, and so that it’s, it felt much more like a mentorship than just, you know, I’m an advisor or somebody that sees them, like maybe once every month or so, or in a large classroom, you don’t get to know them. I’ve actually gotten to know them and I can, like I can see the the ways that they’ve grown and developed confidence and, you know, the way that like, you can be that students and staff can be colleagues. I think that’s neat. And so much more possible, I think, than some people assume.

*Students involved in project* 

Ryan: Human connection is a fundamental aspect of our lives that can bring immense value and benefits to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Lancaster has not only helped to facilitate these connections but has made some of his own.

Adrian Lancaster: I’ve been a lot more mindful of the way that I talk to myself, the way that I like, try to listen better. Just the little things that you just unconsciously do when you communicate with people that, you know, if you just put a little bit more intention, you can have less conflicts, more cooperation, more like compassion. So I’m definitely better at communicating … I found out that I am a better teacher and mentor than I thought. I didn’t expect to be a teacher when I started the program because it was just supposed to be about peer support, and I’m supposed to be a program coordinator. But teaching the classes has been really lovely … I think I’ve learned to sort of do less in class as an instructor and just sort of trust the students to be competent, because they are always very competent and very smart. And kind of like finding new opportunities to let other people lead has been a challenge too, because I’ve also grown up in a place where I have to have all the answers and I have to know, like, everything all the time, right? … Like I’m trying to learn how to deal with like, how to just flow, how to be flexible, how to let other people lead and how to trust them to know what to do, even if you know, on paper, I have more experience. And so that’s been really good experience for me. Like, as a human.

*Background music* 

Ryan: This has been a production of the Daily Texan Audio Department. Reported and edited by me, Ryan Borrego, and supervised by Senior Audio Producer Maria Probert Hermosillo. 

Special thanks to Adrian Lancaster and the SHARE project for participating in this story.