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McNab '12 and Carroll '12: The WPC program needs a unified vision

As current and former Women Peer Counselors, we were disheartened by the recent Herald article on the program ("WPCs criticize program," Oct. 6). While the article accurately conveyed that problematic differences of opinion exist within the WPC community, it did not effectively describe the problem. Therefore, we wish to clarify our dissatisfaction with the WPC program as it currently stands.

Ostensibly, the responsibility of the WPC is to counsel first-year students on myriad sensitive topics surrounding gender and sexuality. But that the Office of Residential Life considers women's, gender and sexuality issues to be ones that WPCs can handle effectively without any specialized training makes it essentially impossible for us to do our job properly. It is dangerous to advertise ourselves to first-years as women who are knowledgeable in these high-risk, highly emotional issues when we are not. The lack of specialized WPC training is a result of different interpretations of the WPC program and the role of the WPC.

We stand by the description of the role as outlined in the most recent incarnation of the WPC mission statement: "to be a community of women who serve as a resource to first-years and a liaison to the greater Brown community; to provide a safe space and initiate, perpetuate and facilitate discussion on women's/gender/sexuality issues, including, but not limited to, gender construction and gender roles, sexism, LGBTQ issues, healthy and unhealthy relationships, safer sex and sexual decision-making, body image and eating disorders, sexual assault, relationship violence and physical/emotional health; and to promote awareness of these issues through presence, visibility and support."

To achieve the goals of our mission statement, it is imperative that WPCs receive workshop trainings in each of the aforementioned issues. These workshops need not be extensive or exhaustive, but WPCs should be taught as much about working with students with eating disorders as we are about fire safety. Because we base our interpretation of the WPC program on the mission statement above, our ideal WPC is an upperclasswoman with proficient training in each of the issues listed in that mission statement.

We don't think that WPCs should be experts on the issues, as we appreciate the importance of referring first-years in crisis to knowledgeable superiors. But it is disconcerting that there is no standardized knowledge base among WPCs regarding any of the topics listed in our mission statement. And it is unfortunate that any specialized training WPCs do receive is organized by the WPC representatives, who are students and therefore are not experts. Training us on the topics that pertain to our position as WPCs should be a continual process, and we would appreciate being trained by such specialists as Brown's nutritionist or the coordinator of sexual assault and prevention advocacy.

We're not asking for anything irrational or drastic. Our arguments are rooted in the program's current mission statement. We simply believe that every WPC should know how to arrange her face when a first-year knocks on her door and discloses that she has been sexually assaulted. Every WPC should have some sense of the first words she should use when a first-year comes out to her, tells her she is severely depressed or says she is struggling with an eating disorder. We live in first-year units, we are friends with first-year students and we are often the first to respond to crises within residence halls. When a first-year confides in her WPC, she expects that WPC to know how to react and what to say in that moment.

Thus far, responses from the Office of Residential Life suggest that the professional staff within that office consider WPCs to be Resident Counselors who are women and who consequently can serve as advocates for women. Many former and current WPCs are concerned by that office's apparent interpretation of the role of the WPC because it neglects the issues outlined in the WPC mission statement. Those issues are significant ones that disproportionately affect women during their first year of college. We believe Brown needs to fully endorse the role of the WPC as defined by the mission statement and recognize her indispensability to both women and men in first-year residence halls.

Each year, discontented WPCs meet to discuss updating the mission statement to better reflect our role in first-year communities. We believe that changing the mission statement to reflect ResLife's interpretation of the WPC program would be a mistake, as it would ignore the very real existence of women's, gender and sexuality issues on campus. The mission statement is not at fault. Rather, the institutional interpretation of the WPC program needs to come into line with that mission statement. If we consciously choose to undermine the efforts of WPCs, who have the potential to play an integral role in improving the lives of women on this campus, we stagnate in a movement toward social progress at Brown and beyond.

Written with contributions from: Octavia Wallace '12, Sandra Mastrangelo '12, Natalie Serrino '12, Sotonye Bobojama '12, Haley Kossek '13, Christen Dillard '12, Amanda Dowden '12, Zoe Stephenson '12, Julia Duch '12, Molly Lao '13 and Anonymous '13.

Reed McNab '12 and Leigh Carroll '12 recommend that the WPC program move out of ResLife without leaving residence halls.


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