No Need for Listeners
In last week’s issue of the Exonian, Matthew Kim argued that student listeners are a crucial aspect of Exeter’s support system. Student listeners certainly have the potential to play a critical role in dorm life at Exeter, but currently, their actual impact is minor.
The first argument that Kim makes is that student listeners are great role models for underclassmen. While this makes sense, it is not universally true, and, more importantly, being a role model and being a student listener are not mutually inclusive. If the importance of student listeners is that they are role models, then their value significantly decreases. Many students are role models, not just student listeners. In fact, the best role models do not have to be the designated student listeners, but they can be the people that we have organically developed relationships with.
The next argument made is that students feel more comfortably speaking with student listeners than with counselors, which makes sense on the surface. This argument at its core, however, is not about student listeners vs. counselors. It is about finding the people we feel most comfortable talking to about our problems, and for many students, those people are friends in the dorm who aren’t necessarily student listeners. It is rare that a student will go to someone seeking advice because that person is a student listener. Students talk to people they trust, whether or not those people are student listeners.
Finally, Kim states that “Each student listener is someone who has proven that they are worthy of the position, and this is the reason I believe the student listeners across campus are such a crucial portion of the dorm and the dorm life.” The problem with this argument is that being worthy of the position of student listener does not equate to actually making a tangible difference. Many students are qualified to be student listeners, and many of those qualified students become student listeners. The actual conversations and the advice that they give in the capacity as a student listener, however, do not amount to their being a crucial part of life at Exeter.
Student listeners, however, have the potential to provide crucial support in a dorm. The skills and information that they learn in weekly one-hour meetings can certainly help students, and it is very useful to have students with the knowledge and ability to help their peers. The problem is that students with academic or psychological issues rarely go to student listeners for help. If we have these problems, we talk to parents, teachers, dorm faculty, advisors and friends. We talk to people we trust, and those people may or may not be student listeners.
The Student Listener program should not be eliminated, but questions need to be raised about how effective the program actually is. We are equipping student listeners with the skills to deal with the different issues that their peers face at Exeter, but are those skills actually being put to use in the dorm, or even in general life at Exeter?