This past Sunday, the Undergraduate Government of Boston College’s Student Assembly (SA) met to consider two resolutions that seek to pursue several progressive initiatives. UGBC Senator Reed Piercey, MCAS ‘19, unanimously passed his resolution through the SA for a Boston College chapter of Lean On Me (LOM), a mental health service that anonymously connects students with one another to create texting networks of instant and automatic support.
The initial motivation for Lean On Me primarily came out of Piercey’s experience as a volunteer at Samaritans Helpline, a suicide hotline in downtown Boston. “I first had the idea to create an immediately-accessible, peer-to-peer resource in the spring semester of last year,” he says. “As I looked around BC and heard growing calls from students for more mental health resources, I wondered if it would be possible to bring something in the spirit of Samaritans to our campus to help close the gap.”
In the fall of 2016, Piercey’s supervisor at Samaritans noticed his interest in such a resource and informed him of Lean On Me, a texting service that has expanded its active hotlines to universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Chicago. At the suggestion of his supervisor, as well as with the inspiration to begin BC’s own chapter, Piercey got in touch with the Lean On Me organization and has been in contact with the MIT team since the end of last year.
“They immediately welcomed my interest and provided me with the resources, guidance, and advice to bring their service to BC,” Piercey explains. “I've been working in tandem with them ever since.”
However, it was not until this semester that Piercey’s incentive saw substantial growth. After condensing the applicable information from Lean On Me National’s extensive handbook, Piercey was able to create a three-page resolution outlining how the hotline would operate on BC’s campus. Exemplified by his obvious enthusiasm for the program, Piercey’s proposal saw undisputed approval from the Student Assembly.
“At the meeting, I was able to present it to the group and answer as many questions as I had time for, which was luckily quite a few. We’re always looking for more student feedback,” Piercey says. “We then discussed the resolution amongst everyone and proceeded to a vote, which unanimously went our way. It was incredibly exciting.”
Moving forward, LOM BC will work as an extension of the mental health committee within the Student Initiatives division of UGBC. In Piercey’s resolution, he outlined the leadership roles within Lean On Me BC, which include four spots on the Executive Board: President, Training Coordinator, Head of Recruitment, and Director of Outreach and Publicity. LOM’s permanent presence will improve student life by providing “an instantly accessible, non-judgmental listening space on campus.” The employment of supporters from the student body provides a community of shared experiences. The service is as readily available as any application on your cell phone, with peer supporters only being a text or phone call away.
Piercey explicitly made clear that Lean On Me is strictly non-emergency, and will be marketed as such. Although the student volunteers will not be professionally certified to handle situations of immediate danger, they are required to go through LOM’s Supporter Development Workshop to ensure the quality of support and promote awareness of local resources.
“I think there's a large need for increased support before students get to that point—if they’re overwhelmed, stressed, or don't feel like they have anyone to talk to,” Piercey explains. “We aim to address that, hence the name of the project. In their moment of need, everyone at BC should have someone to lean on. I’m positive that this will make BC a more welcoming, inclusive place for everyone.”
In terms of putting the program into effect, the next steps for BC’s chapter of Lean On Me involve receiving official authorization from BC administration. Although LOM BC has created a strong foundation in student support and UGBC approval, several University procedures must be fulfilled and confirmed, including emergency protocol, Title IX status, and other liability issues that tend to accompany mental health services such as this one. UGBC has thus been in the process of presenting a complete, coherent plan for addressing all plausible situations to the BC legal team, and appears to be en route to receiving the stamp of approval.
“It’s been great to get tentative support from a couple administrators already, so I’m optimistic,” Piercey says. Hoping for the continued persistence of success, Boston College’s chapter of Lean On Me looks to begin serving the student body in the fall.
In similar progressive strides, UGBC passed another resolution on Sunday night—this one calling for a change in signage for the gendered single-stalled restrooms in academic buildings to become gender neutral. The proposition to rid these restrooms of gender designation was sponsored and presented to the Student Assembly by Josh Frazier, MCAS ‘19.
For Frazier, the primary motivation for this incentive came down to the need for accessibility. The notion of accessibility extends to various objectives, the first discussed being efficiency. To put it simply, gender neutral bathrooms provide more available restrooms for any individual to make use of. At the dismissal of classes in academic buildings, Frazier had observed the extensive traffic that flowed outside of the women’s single-stall restroom while the men’s room was in light use. The same disproportion was present for men’s restrooms on other floors. It only made sense to manage and standardize restroom availability.
Another component of the accessibility factor promotes comfort and inclusion of transgender and gender non-conforming students in the Boston College community. “Removing the gender-designation from these single-stall restrooms offers everyone on our campus more accessibility to restroom facilities,” Frazier explains.
As with Piercey’s proposal, Frazier’s presentation of the resolution concerning single-stalled restrooms was strongly supported within the Student Assembly. However, to continue the development of this initiative, Frazier emphasized the importance of student body involvement. Standing in solidarity with one another is a primary catalyst for such change.
“Student testimonials are just one of the paths we’re looking down to make our case to the administration that the majority of students would like to see this apolitical, accessibility-conscious, inexpensive, and practical change happen,” he says.
Members of UGBC have continued to initiate productive conversations with the administration. Frazier stresses the importance of cooperation and mutual respect that is necessary to promote positive and progressive growth on campus. Should the administration move forward with this resolution, Boston College can expect to see great strides of improvement in promoting an inclusive community on campus. Although the proposal will not be monumental for certain divisions of campus life, “it is still one that changes it for the positive, especially for Boston College’s TGNC (transgender, gender-non conforming) community,” Frazier says. “For those students, the improvement will be marked.”
In order to enable constructive discussion on BC’s campus, the responsibility now falls on the greater student body to initiate the conversation. Productive dialogue between students as well as with members of the administration are certainly necessary steps in the right direction.