Over the semester, seniors Jason Blake, Alec Lafaille and Maegan Mauriello have spearheaded the founding of the organization Trinity Peer Advocate Group (TPAG) which aims to provide a 24-hour hotline that offers support for students dealing with mental health crises and other extraneous situations while protecting anonymity. They hope to install this program on campus by next semester.
The program, if implemented, would aim to be an alternative resource to counseling services that keeps callers’ names and personal situations confidential with the exception of extreme cases.
“Especially those who are dealing with issues of sexual harassment and assault, there’s a lot of self-blame on that. There’s a lot of shame and second-guessing so they don’t go to counseling services because of that.
“The idea is that if we can help people get over those issues of self-blame and shame, they can go to counseling services or to people that can really help them. TPAG would just be the first step,” Lafaille said.
TPAG was inspired by the recent changes in sexual assault policy at Trinity. It also mirrors programs at institutions similar to Trinity.
“It started off as a resource for those who’ve dealt with sexual assault and harassment. The model is actually used at Rhodes College. What they do is they have a 24/7 hotline and its staffed by students who are trained by the university and their counseling services,” Lafaille said.
Student volunteers that have been trained in dealing with a variety of mental health issues would be answering phone calls. TPAG will strive to be a student-run and operated organization.
“What we believe TPAG is doing by having students manning the phone is that it creates an environment or system that is not daunting.We understand that it’s not professionals working the phones, but there’s already access to professionals, so we wanna give students another route they can pursue if they have any type of issue on campus,” Mauriello said.
Lafaille has sought input from the Rape Crisis Center in San Antonio concerning how TPAG should train their student-volunteers and program.
“The people at the Rape Crisis Center are very enthusiastic about this. They will be providing us with any training that we’ll need in talking to people with eating disorders, depression and suicide and sexual assault,” Lafaille said.
As of right now, leaders of TPAG are measuring student enthusiasm for this program and whether or not the program.
“What we need to work through is getting the public’s opinion because we want to make sure that this is something that people really think they need. The administration has concerns.
They aren’t getting in the way per say, but they’re worried and they aren’t sure if there’s a market for it because we have things like counseling services,” said senior Kelly Seeber.
Despite being a student-run organization staffed by Trinity students and affiliated with the university, TPAG is seeking to receive funding only from outside sources.
“We’re hoping to keep it as separate from bureaucracy as possible. We’ll be held accountable to the rules here at Trinity, but we’re hoping to keep the funding from the Rape Crisis Center and fund ourselves so we don’t have to depend on money from the school,” Seeber said.
The organization is also reaching out to other organizations.
Mauriello, a psychology major, is looking for support from the psychology department and potentially offer volunteers credit for their work. TPAG is also seeking direction from Residential Life.
“What we’re trying to do is get in contact with as many ResLife members as possible and see what are their thoughts and advice because they deal with a lot of these issues and they have a wealth of experience that we can and need to learn from,” Blake said.
All three founding members of TPAG will be graduating this semester and will leave the remaining work to current underclassmen TPAG members.
“I think with TPAG there’s a lot of good potential because it is student led and student implemented. It gives Trinity an opportunity to have an organization that deals with students having issues on campus and I think its going to help build the cohesion of the campus. It allows everyone to work together to try and create a better environment for everyone else. That what our aim is,” Mauriello said.