Following a student death, the University administration refers students to a variety of school-sponsored resources. But some student groups also step forward to provide various services for their peers.
Penn Benjamins is the first peer-counseling organization at Penn. It provides students with confidential one-on-one peer counseling sessions led by students trained to listen.
College junior and ongoing Training Director for Penn Benjamins Max Schechter said that while the group has no formal procedure for dealing with a student death, they “want people to know [they’re] there.”
Available Sundays through Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., Penn Benjamins offers “peer-to-peer help for issues big or small” and provides referrals to professional resources, Schechter said.
“Everyone should know about the resources that Penn has because Penn has so many,” he added. “A lot of people don’t know about specific clubs like Penn Benjamins, [Reach-A-Peer Helpline] and Actively Moving Forward.”
Schechter said he has heard of students who have had unpleasant experiences waiting to schedule meetings with Counseling and Psychological Services.
“That’s exactly what these peer counseling organizations like Penn Benjamins are here for,” Schechter said. “It’s a shame that not everyone knows about these clubs, especially the people that need it the most.”
College junior Mariya Bershad is one of the marketing and finance chairs of RAP-Line, a student-run over-the-phone confidential helpline that provides “support, information, and referrals” to students from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Bershad said that after student deaths, RAP-Line tries to ramp up publicity efforts for their services and the services of other on-campus resources.
Student members of RAP-Line undergo training to teach members how to help people with a variety of problems and mental health issues, including a day set aside for learning about how to help students with “death, dying, and issues of loss.”
“There’s something to say for talking to a student who is the same age as you and maybe who has gone through something similar,” Bershad said. “If you’re just looking for somebody to talk to in that moment and maybe you’re not looking for a semester of therapy, it could just be a nice thing to do.”
Active Minds Penn is another club that seeks to help start conversations about mental health and erase the stigma surrounding the topic.
Co-President of Active Minds and College senior Jasmine Paz said the club’s main response to a traumatic incident such as a student death is to share any resources and contacts that could be useful to students through platforms like Facebook and email listservs.
“Especially in the mental health sphere, we try to make sure to be cautious about anything we share around that time period and make sure that it’s something that would be beneficial for anyone who is struggling,” Paz said.
Vice President of Outreach for Active Minds and College senior Meghana Reddy said that while their purpose is to be a support system for the student body, they ultimately try to encourage students to consult professional resources offered by the University.
“At the end of the day we are students,” Reddy said. “We can be there for people to lean on, but if someone is really going through something that requires professional help or they are experiencing a very deep tragedy, it’s most important to kind of seek out the types of resources that are most appropriate.”
Paz agreed, but added that while Active Minds advocates for professional resources, she recognizes the importance of peer support as well.
“Following a tragedy, one way that [peer counseling clubs] are different is that clubs like Penn Benjamins are a part of the student body,” Paz said. “They’re students who have also lost a student, one of our peers. It makes it a little more relatable.”
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