The structure of Peer Health in the College this year looks different from previous years. The change comes as the student volunteer group tries to move from its historical independence from the college and in-house approach to programming to a more intentional partnership with Residential Life to cultivate a united front to support students.
While Peer Health mentors held mandatory one-on-one meetings with assigned floors and students, this year mentors hope to be available as an additional and less formal resource for the floor as a whole, much like a residential assistant. Mentors hope that this will make the relationship between them and the freshmen more organic and tailored to personal needs.
“I think this year it’s much more that you can make your relationships specific to your floor instead of universal,” Sofia Totene-Darvas ’25, who is in her first year as a peer health mentor, said.
Peer Health’s mission is multidimensional and aims to address common issues that students may face on a daily basis. In contrast to last year’s collective approach to programming, the group is now divided into three committees focused on specific topics: relationships and sexual health, alcohol and other drugs, and peer support. This multifaceted approach allows the organization to reach all students in a targeted manner and with programming developed by each group for its unique theme. The program ranges from last year’s Sex Fest to seminars on responsible alcohol consumption.
“I feel like my role as a mentor in the Bowdoin community is to be a leader in health and wellness and really advocate for those opportunities that are on campus that a lot of people don’t know about,” Henry Somerby 23, Member of Peer Health’s leadership team said.
Somerby believes this change has better prepared Peer Health members to be valuable resources as well as friendly faces on campus.
“We work more with ResLife and just try to be another addition or resource on the floor,” he said. “It allowed us to focus a lot more on programming, and we just focused on showing up to the first-year dorms.”
For him, that means attending weekly flinners for his assigned floors and planning events like Plan B Day, where contraceptives and other sexual health resources were distributed to students.
Before this year’s restructuring, freshmen often expressed that their Peer Health mentor was less accessible and that conversations between peers were less regular and subsequently felt less natural.
“I feel very helpful this year because last year Peer Health didn’t have as big of a presence,” Totene-Darvas said. “I think it…varies from floor to floor.”
Last year, Peer Health mentors were less engaged with their assigned floors, making individual interactions less meaningful. Mentors are now more engaged and conversations can go further.
“I like how it’s working now, especially compared to what was going on before,” Somerby said. “We feel like we’re freer to do whatever we want and whatever we can to help the student body.”
Pablo Patel ’23 has been a proctor for two years and hasn’t seen much change for ResLife since the changes at Peer Health. But he noted the closer relationship between Peer Health and ResLife present this year.
“I feel like last year Peer Health felt very separate, and this year I feel like they’re doing a lot more advertising in terms of ‘these are the events we’re doing’ and getting us to reach out to our freshmen,” said Patel.
Increased involvement helps take pressure off both sides, as both organizations can collaborate to solve problems using their overlapping skill sets. Patel noted the different training both groups undergo and how that plays a role in dealing with first-graders.
“I think [ResLife] there is some training in mental health and sexual health and just general health,” Patel said. “[Peer Health] the teaching is much more local related to health stuff, so I hope my first graders can relate to it if they ever have a problem.”
Resources do not go unnoticed. Although Courtney Burnett ’26 didn’t interact much with her Peer Health mentor, she still noted that she felt supported. She and her Peer Health mentor met briefly at the beginning of class and was offered information about Peer Health programming and what the organization does.
“I feel like the conversation we had early on made me feel really confident about the resources we have here,” Burnett said.
Integrating Peer Health mentors on first-year floors is a move to open consistent and meaningful connections between classes that go beyond the surface level.