Students play a major role in supporting and encouraging each other at Oxford – particularly during the pandemic. The Student Peer Supporter programme as an integral part of our welfare provision, including Peers of Colour and Rainbow Peers.
We spoke to two postgraduate students: Lion Uhl, a fourth year Molecular and Cellular Medicine DPhil at Green Templeton College, and Martin Fellermeyer, a third year Medical Sciences DPhil at Somerville College. They shared their experience as students who trained as peers for the Peer Support Programme.
Learning how to listen
Lion: "Peer Support training is an extensive course provided by the Student Welfare and Support Services, teaching you a lot of invaluable interpersonal skills, most importantly active listening and offering a safe space for your conversation partner to talk about anything that concerns them. I always thought of myself as being a fairly good listener, but this course really taught me that there is a lot more to it than just nodding along while someone is talking to you, and that active listening is a skill that needs to be honed."
Making people aware of the support available
Lion: "I would highly recommend this course to anyone, as I think becoming better at listening is something we can all benefit from. Also being a Welfare Rep at my college helped my personal experience, as most peer support happens informally.It is really important to make sure students are aware of Peer Support by promoting it through various welfare related events and communication channels. All peer supporters are also encouraged to join Coffee Ambassadors, a university-wide network connecting peer supporters of different colleges and departments trying to make peer support more accessible throughout Oxford."
Approaching sensitive topics
Martin: "Having been active as student representative during my Bachelor and Masters, I had a few occasions where students reached out to me with quite sensitive topics. While I’ve tried my very best - and I hope I was somewhat successful - to help those students, I always felt it’d be great to get training for such situations. Having expected some blurry ‘dos and don’ts’, I was truly surprised by how much more there is to learn and explore, with active listening just being one of many keywords. The programme really teaches you how to approach sensitive topics with anyone, whether it’s a peer from college, your closest friend or someone in your family."
Being able to reach out
Martin: "After your training, you can become active as a peer supporter in your college and/or department/division, organise welfare teas/walks or invite speakers - it’s really up to you. There’s no too little, nor too much. If you want to be part of a university-wide peer support initiative, I would recommend you have a look at the Oxford University Coffee Ambassadors. The aim is to unlink peer support from colleges and departments and offer students & post-docs the opportunity to reach out to peer supporters from different backgrounds while enjoying a free coffee."
If you would like to find out more about training to become a peer supporter, please visit the Peer Support Training page for guidance. If you would like get support from a fellow student peer, please visit the Peer Support Programme page.