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CogWell @ Penn brings in trained professionals to discuss mental health on campus. At this semester's meeting, they hosted an event to learn about active listening.

Credit: Michael Goerlitz

CogWell @ Penn, a student-run organization that promotes mental health, held its biannual active listening training on Sunday to inform students on how to better support their peers who are struggling with their mental health.

CogWell Director of Training Barbra Berley-Mellits, a trained social worker, taught students how to become more effective listeners and better support their friends at the event held at the Lubavitch House. Through interactive exercises and group discussions, attendees learned skills such as how to start difficult conversations and how to connect peers to mental health resources. 

The club, led by College senior Samantha Gold, has held similar training sessions each semester since its founding in 2005. CogWell hosts trained professionals to discuss mental health on campus, specifically how to “cope and be resilient with the challenges of college life and help support [students’] friends," according to its website.

At the training session, students paired up for a talking activity that demonstrated the pitfalls of normal listening, such as losing interest or interrupting the person speaking. The group also discussed how to be better listeners by using a compassionate tone, validating other people's experiences and emotions, and repeating back what someone said to confirm understanding. 

Credit: Michael Goerlitz

Attendees learned how to properly start conversations about difficult topics and shared their own experiences at a roundtable discussion.

“CogWell in general has definitely revolutionized the way that I listen and the way I try [to] support my friends,” incoming CogWell president and College sophomore Allie Schlager said. “This event was really beneficial for me because they gave so many real tangible experiences that I could understand and use as examples and find ways that I can take that information that we talked about and [apply] it to other situations.”

CogWell student leaders also hold mini-trainings throughout the semester where student organizations can request services from the group. These are a shorter version of the main semesterly trainings, and they emphasize mental health awareness and active listening skills.

Delta Delta Delta president and College junior Kabele Cook said she was looking forward to CogWell running an active listening training for the sorority. 

“I came today because I wanted to learn some skills and tools that I could utilize and to active listen to my members and my officers when problems do arise,” Cook said. “I’m really excited to pursue having them come in and train our entire chapter at our next chapter meeting.”

Director of Lubavitch House Ephraim Levin, who has advised CogWell since its formation, said he has appreciated watching the club grow over the years. While they initially trained about 30 students a year, they now reach closer to 300 students.

“Through learning skills of active listening, a person could be more supportive of their friends for everyday struggles,” Levin said.

Penn recently scored the highest in the Ivy League for mental health in a December 2018 report from the Ruderman Family Foundation, yet still received a failing grade of a D+. The report's author cited poor leave of absence policies at Penn, including instances where Penn has forced students to take involuntary leaves of absences.