Oberlin Blogs

I Took a Peer Helping Skills Class This Semester (and I Loved It!)

May 10, 2019

Jason Hewitt ’20

As crazy as it seems, I took a late night class this semester, and I surprisingly enjoyed it!

I initially signed up for LEAD 201 only with the intention to receive two credits (half the credits of a full course at Oberlin). That's all I desired from that class. I didn't expect to learn and grow so much from this one class that was held every Tuesday evening in Wilder Hall. I can't sit here and say that I wanted to be in that class, because that would be a lie, and I wouldn't lie to y'all. I had to ensure that I had enough credits in order to graduate next year (Next year... sheesh, time flies!), so I signed up for the first "easy" class I could find. I remember signing up for it with nothing but complaints. The class lasted for two hours every Tuesday from 7 to 9 P.M. this semester. This wasn't terrible, but it was a little inconvenient to my already busy schedule. However, I had no idea about how beneficial the class would be for me and my fellow peers. I didn't know that this class was going to change the way I thought and communicated for the better.

The class was designed with a "Pass/No Pass" format, which basically implies that if you put forth at least a little bit of effort, you are bound to pass.

There were around twenty people in the class, and we would talk about many different aspects of peer helping and how to be better resources for our fellow classmates and loved ones. This class was run by Matthew Hayden, one of the associate deans here at Oberlin. Along with Matthew, there were two student co-facilitators who ran the class. The organization of everything was really relaxed and to-the-point. There were writing assignments here and there, but they were never too challenging.

This was one of the "unbearably difficult" writing assignments I had to complete for homework every single week:

"Self-care is a very important yet often neglected aspect of my life. I definitely appreciate the emphasis of self-care in this week’s class, because it proved to be very applicable to my daily activities. This week’s class left me with very useful information to use throughout the week. One of the most important things I came away with was the idea of caring about myself before I care about others. The 'breathing mask on an airplane' example was such a good use of imagery to think about whenever I stress out about other people or events that I can’t control. If I can’t save myself, how can I save other people? So I practiced mindfulness of myself and really honed into what my body and mind needs in certain situations. Honestly, it has made me a lot more efficient with my time. It’s also been a useful idea when it comes to managing stress. Prioritizing myself has allowed me to become more relaxed when I complete the tasks I have to finish throughout the week. It has even allowed me to enjoy the work that I’m doing."

That was literally my homework every week. To make matters even better, students were able to skip two of those in order to pass the course.

It gets even better, y'all! There were a total of three class periods that students were allowed to skip without penalty. Assignments like the one mentioned above were due every week before class, and I never had a problem with completing them. The readings we were assigned were almost always interesting, so coming up with responses was never a really big deal. It was easy to have fun with the course and gain new knowledge from the relatively easy readings that we had to do for our class discussions.

I want to make it a point of emphasis that the "easiness" of the class wasn't even the best part. The content and the people involved made it more than worthwhile!

This class was set up in a large room on the second floor of Wilder that was filled with posters from events throughout Oberlin's history. There were also couches and comfortable seats for students to relax in after a long day. This only established the chill vibe that I got from LEAD 201 every single time I experienced class there. Whenever I walked into the room, I felt a sense of relaxation. It never felt like other classes when I would feel a little stress (and even irritation at some points). The vibe was always laid back, and the conversations that were had would always be productive. We covered topics such as campus resources, mental health, self-care, and so much more. When we talked about these topics, the conversations never got out of hand. Everyone was able to share their views without facing judgment or disrespect. It was honestly a really enjoyable experience every time. Even when I didn't feel like going to class on a particular day, I would always leave satisfied with what I learned and the conversations that were had. 

Along with going to class, we had a "skills lab" that focused on peer helping skills and how to approach fellow students using a "non-directive" approach.

I would walk into Wilder every Monday, take the elevator to the peer support center, and participate in a "skills lab." For this part of the course, I had to act as a "peer helper" who had to provide assistance to those who came to the peer support center looking for help. One student would act as the helper, one would act as the person being helped, and one more was present to observe the conversation that took place. Matthew and the co-facilitators would be present for this skills lab, so it was a great opportunity to apply the things we learned in class in front of them. The challenging part about the lab was figuring out how to apply the "non-directive method" to real-life situations. In order to apply this mehod, I couldn't directly give a person advice. For instance, if a person came in and said that they were worried about their mental health, I wouldn't immediately tell them to go to the counseling center. Instead, I would ask them questions about what they were going through and how they felt. Skills like these would be explored through the lab, and it was always a positive experience for me to learn those skills. 

With all that being said, if you're looking for a class that focuses on helping others next semester, I encourage you to check out LEAD 201!

This class is as relaxing as it gets, and you gain more "people skills" than ever before. I didn't expect to learn as much as I did in this class, but I gained new knowledge that I can apply to my own personal life and the lives of others as well. I'm excited to see this class continue to thrive here at Oberlin!

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