Communication issues thwart MPC, RPL efforts

Monday, November 19, 2007

Nearly two years after the Minority Peer Counselor program broke away from the Office of Residential Life, MPCs now live alongside Residential Peer Leaders in every first-year dorm, but student counselors say communication between the programs could still stand to improve.

The MPC program had reported to the Third World Center until 2000, and it was a part of the RPL program run by the Office of Residential Life – a structure that lasted until 2006. Under the joint supervision of ResLife and the TWC, MPCs had the same general responsibilities as RPLs but received additional training for minority issues.

But when the program was internally reviewed a few years ago, administrators discovered a “consistent trend that MPCs were unhappy with their role as RPLs,” said MPC Co-Coordinator Nabanita Pal ’09. Exit surveys completed by MPCs over the years suggested students felt that their duties as general counselors detracted from their ability to spend time working on minority-specific issues, Pal said.

In 2006, the program was redesigned and separated from ResLife to allow MPCs to focus more on minority programming. Pal said that, contrary to the belief that they were “pulled out of the units,” MPCs did remain in freshmen dorms. For funding reasons, there were not enough MPCs to place one in each unit, and the counselors were instead assigned according to regions. This year, there is at least one MPC in each dorm, if not in every unit.

Equal distribution of MPCs is an integral component of the program. Current MPC Okezie Nwoka ’10 said last year his MPC lived in a different building, adding to the stress of his freshman year. “There were a lot of issues I didn’t know how to deal with, and I did want to articulate them to someone with the insight to help me with those issues,” he said.

Some see this specialization as limiting. “They’re there for anyone, but they seek out more minority students,” said Residential Counselor Jude Fleming ’10. Though MPCs’ interaction with first-years varies, RC Molly Jacobson ’10 said MPCs are “exclusionary by title.”

But Pal said the MPC program is constantly criticized in a way that other programs, like the Women’s Peer Counselor program, are not. “People are uncomfortable with a program based on difference,” she said.

First years tend to gravitate toward “whoever you see most,” Nwoka said, not necessarily the counselor with a relevant focus. If a specialized problem arises, the peer counselor can then “direct them to resources and reassure them that it’s okay to talk to someone else,” Payne said.

Even though WPCs and MPCs are trained in specific issues, “students come to me for general issues,” said WPC Hee Kyung Chung ’09. She said many MPCs make an effort to express that they want first-years “who don’t necessarily have minority problems” to also come to them.

“Just because you’re not close with your RC or MPC doesn’t mean the program isn’t fulfilling its mission,” Pal said.

Though there are no general conflicts between the programs, RCs and MPCs expressed concern about poor communication under the current structure. Because MPCs do not take part in the weeklong training of RCs and WPCs, the initial bonds of communication are often not formed, counselors said. For this reason, RPLs – many of whom did not have MPCs in their dorms as freshmen last year – may be confused about MPCs’ role within the unit. “(We’re) not sure what the goal of our interaction is, how we are supposed to relate,” Fleming said.

Payne, the WPC, agreed. “If we don’t force ourselves to make that communication, there is no reason for us to understand,” she said.

Many current RPLs said the goals and expectations of all programs should have been more clearly explained in training and to first-year students during Orientation.

Jacobson, an RC, said a workshop on race for RCs, WPCs and MPCs during Orientation would have been useful. Joint programming would create a stronger bond between the counselors and reinforce for RCs, WPCs and first-years the role of MPCs, she said.

Many current RPLs had suggestions for improving cohesion between the two programs, most of which focused on improving communication. Chung said she told ResLife officials that a designated liaison between the two programs might foster “better coordination.” Jacobson recommended that MPCs and RPLs be strongly encouraged to have a weekly meal or other meeting. Some already counselors already so on their own, and consequently their units often have “the best MPC-RPL relations,” she said.

Any communication gap can be easily remedied if both groups make a concerted effort to “normalize” the differences between their programs, Jacobson added. “Talking about these things shouldn’t be a big deal.”

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