In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re showcasing a few of our volunteers this week and their commitment to young people and Peer Health Exchange’s mission.
College/ University: University of Chicago
Why did you decide to volunteer at Peer Health Exchange?
My friend told me about how she was involved in Peer Health Exchange during her first year. She told me that she would go to high schools and teach sexual education. It sounded like it would be a fun experience and I was looking for things to do on campus as a second year.
What about Peer Health Exchange’s vision or mission attracted you to the organization?
I really appreciated the fact that Peer Health Exchange empowers students to make their own decisions when it comes to their health; as opposed to telling them what they should or should not do. It has not been my personal experience to be told what to do when I had health education in high school; however, some of my fellow health educators have said that this was their experience and that it was not a pleasant one. I’m thankful that PHE provides the info and then gives students the tools to decide what to do with it.
How long have you been a volunteer at Peer Health Exchange?
I’ve been volunteering since I was a second year and I am a fourth year now, so it’s been about two years.
What have you gained and/or learned from volunteering at Peer Health Exchange?
I’ve learned that being patient with students is really important. Throughout the year, one of the trainings that we do is called “Trauma-Informed-Approach.” This training involves learning about how a lot of the students that we work may have been involved in some sort of trauma – and how what they’ve been through can manifest in their behavior in several ways. For instance, if a student is acting out or has their head on their desk – it might not be because they are a “bad student” or don’t feel like participating. It could be because they’ve been through a traumatic event and may have a difficult time coping. This isn’t to say that this is always the case, but it’s something to keep in mind when going into the classroom- simply being mindful about students’ experiences and how they can be different from yours, and that they could be going through and dealing with things that you don’t know about.
What does health equity mean to you?
To me, health equity means, giving everyone equal access to health education regardless of their background and/or circumstances.
What has been your most memorable moment as a Peer Health Exchange volunteer?
I’ve told people this before, but there was one time in the classroom when I had remembered a student’s name who was quiet and wasn’t participating as much as her classmates. I called on her and remembered her name and she said, “Oh you remembered my name!” And after that moment she became more engaged and was participating more in the classroom. I realized then that the more we can connect with students, by remembering their names for instance, the more the material resonates with them, which is something that is very important to me.
This is something that I keep in mind as I continue to go into the classroom – I make a conscious effort to remember students’ names.
What issues are you most concerned about?
I am concerned about the violence that particularly affects the communities we serve. This concerns me insofar as how it may affect not only the students’ well being in terms of their health and safety, but also how it can affect their ability to process and/or retain the information that they learn in school, including through PHE. In an ideal world, we would work with every student individually in order to meet their needs so that they can fully take advantage of the information that they are learning. However, this is not the case, so it is very important to try and be as inclusive as possible, whether that is through the language that we use or how we approach the students.
Who inspires you and/or who is your role model when it comes to health advocacy and why?
I don’t really have anyone in particular who inspires, me but currently, I would say that survivors from the Parkland school who are fighting for gun reform are inspiring me. They are very brave and have assumed a lot of responsibility even though they have just been through a tragedy and are very young. I know for me and for a lot of people, that this gives us hope for the future.
Anything else you would want us to know about you and/or your experience with Peer Health Exchange?
Just that it’s one of my favorite things to do here at UChicago and I look forward to teaching every week.