The members of Penn’s Reach-A-Peer Helpline hope to expand the group’s presence on campus in an effort to let students know that they are always open to talk.
RAPline’s new initiatives include reaching out to freshmen during New Student Orientation and teaching students how to speak to peers who are stressed or might need help.
Issues surrounding mental health have become prominent on campus following four undergraduate deaths, two of which were ruled suicides.
“We want to keep that momentum growing and make a change,” said Mary Cerulli, a College freshman and the co-vice president of marketing for RAPline.
RAPline members emphasized that their new initiatives are not a response to the recent events, but they’d like to be involved in the current conversation.
“Since there has been increased awareness about mental health recently, it’s a good time to make people aware that this resource is available,” said Antonia Diener, a College sophomore and the president of RAPline. “Whether you’re worried about a test tomorrow or having problems at home, this could be the resource for you.”
Throughout the past year, RAPline has had “a really internal focus,” Diener said. RAPline members gave presentations to students in the lecture halls of psychology classes and similar disciplines whose students might be interested in becoming members, which has helped to almost double the number of staff members.
“This is the year to get new material and to push to increase visibility,” Cerulli said.
RAPline’s biggest push will be reaching out to freshmen during NSO, which might include a skit in the Penn Life Sketches or another type of presentation to the incoming class. They also hope to add RAPline to the list of campus resources freshmen learn about, pass out more merchandise and speak to residential advisors and graduate associates in the college houses about what RAPline is.
“You should know that talking about your problems is not a fire alarm. It’s totally normal and really healthy,” Cerulli said.
In addition to NSO initiatives, RAPline is planning a training program in which students can learn how to create a safe space for peers who might be stressed or struggling.
“It’s important for us to help establish safe environments outside of [RAPline],” said Jibreel Powell, a College sophomore and the vice president of training for RAPline. “Whether it’s fraternities and sororities, performing arts groups or something else, they should know how to create a space where you can share your thoughts and be open with each other.”
Many LGBT student groups have implemented safe space initiatives in the past. Like the LGBT safe space programs, RAPline hopes to give out stickers to students who complete training sessions.
“There are a lot of myths about how to help someone who is having a tough time, and training can help change that,” Cerulli said.
“The biggest thing is that people aren’t ever looking for advice. That’s not an effective way to help someone,” Diener said. “It takes away their own choice and empowerment, so instead it’s more effective to cooperatively come up with a solution. You can say, ‘OK, these are some options, what do you think?’”
RAPline will run a trial training program by the end of the semester and hopes to implement a full training program sometime during the next school year, Cerulli said.
As a more long-term project, RAPline hopes to provide a text or chat service for students, which would require more accreditation and training.
Since RAPline was founded in the early 1990s, the group has had difficulty making students aware of it as a resource.
“It’s hard because only board members and seniors can be a public face,” Cerulli said. All other members of RAPline must remain anonymous and can’t put up posters, attend activity fairs or promote the organization in any way.
The advisor of RAPline is Bill Alexander, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services. He runs a training session on suicide protocol, and members can contact him with any questions or issues. RAPline hopes to work more closely with Alexander in the future.
“Whether you need someone to vent to or you need help finding other resources, it’s feeling like you’re helping someone else find a piece of mind that we all kind of need, especially at this point,” Powell said. “It’s just a group of people who genuinely want to provide support to a community we all love.”
The RAPline phone number is 215-573-2727. Students can call from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. any day of the week. For students with questions or who’d like to become staff members, contact .