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Peer Support (EARS)


EARS (Empathy Assistance & Referral Service) will redesign its peer support offerings after several decades of service. EARS will pursue new ways to promote student mental health and well-being through its training and outreach efforts.

The current EARS advisor (from DOS Care & Crisis Services) and future EARS advisor (from Cornell Health’s Skorton Center for Health Initiatives) are working together during the Spring 2021 semester to support and engage EARS students in a process of reimagining peer support. Moving the advising of EARS to the Skorton Center was recommended in the campus Mental Health Review.

Read more about these updates in the Cornell Chronicle and r​​​​eview frequently-asked questions about these changes below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is EARS no longer able to provide peer counseling?

Although EARS has provided peer counseling for decades, Cornell’s Office of Risk Management has re-examined this aspect of the organization’s work. Unfortunately, it has been determined that the university’s general liability insurance policy does not provide coverage for mental health counseling delivered by students.

But some other schools provide peer-to-peer counseling. Why not us?

Due to the nature of insurance coverage, Cornell would only be able to support peer-to-peer counseling by students as part of clinical training associated with a degree program. Cornell does not offer any graduate clinical training programs (e.g., MSW, LMHC, doctorate in psychology).

Does this mean that EARS is ending completely?

No, EARS offers more than just peer-to-peer counseling. EARS students can continue to promote student mental health and well-being through training and outreach efforts, and Cornell Health's Skorton Center for Health Initiatives hopes to work with EARS students to develop additional avenues through which EARS can promote student mental health support. Through its ongoing and evolving training and outreach programs, EARS can implement peer-led, upstream, and visible strategies to promote student mental health, well-being, and positive culture change within the Cornell community. This is an opportunity for EARS students to have a greater and more lasting impact moving forward.

Will EARS continue training students?

Yes, training provided by EARS is useful to students whether or not they ever served as peer counselors. More than half of beginner trainees complete the EARS training program and do not become peer counselors. The EARS training cultivates skills (e.g., communication, leadership, active listening, and peer support) that are transferrable in everyday life – professional, academic or personal.

Why is advising for EARS and Cornell Minds Matter changing from the Office of the Dean of Students to the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives?

The university’s recent Mental Health Review recommended transitioning the advising of EARS to Cornell Health's Skorton Center for Health Initiatives, which focuses on “upstream” mental health approaches (e.g., self-care and resilience, culture change, promotion of mental health resources, etc.). The training and outreach focus of EARS and the mental health advocacy work of Cornell Minds Matter are well-aligned with the mission of the Skorton Center and will be supported by the center’s mental health professionals. 

How will the students be involved in next steps?

The process of reimagining how EARS can best provide support and promote the mental health and well-being of the student population should be a collaborative exploration between EARS members and staff from Cornell Health's Skorton Center for Health Initiatives. During spring 2021, EARS leaders will be invited to meet with staff from the Skorton Center to discuss the needs of the campus community and to explore innovative approaches for addressing these needs.

What is the new mission and vision of EARS?

Over the coming months, EARS students will have the opportunity to work with staff from Cornell Health's Skorton Center for Health Initiatives to refine the organization’s mission and vision and consider new forms of peer support.

Will changes to EARS impact access to mental health services?

No. The university’s mental health services do not (and should not) rely on peer counseling. While peer counseling has been a valuable resource for a small percentage of students (typically less than 1% of the student body in recent years), more than 20% of students receive professional mental health care through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) each year. Student access to professional mental health support through CAPS and Cornell Health's medical services will not change. Students seeking anonymous support outside of CAPS can access several 24/7 talk and text lines.

The other mental health options are fine, but isn’t it also important that students have peers to turn to for support?

Absolutely. This is why it’s important that students, including EARS students, continue to innovate and develop new ways to reach our community. Peer-to-peer support is critical for establishing norms related to well-being as well as an environment where friends know how to support one another and can help each other access relevant campus resources. There are many ways to accomplish these goals, and a new peer support model with a wider reach could play a crucial role in making Cornell a healthier place for everyone.

How can EARS students who want to do direct counseling continue that work?

Suicide Prevention and Crisis Services of Tompkins County is eager to welcome Cornell students who are interested in training to serve as volunteer counselors on the local Crisisline.

How to connect with EARS

Although EARS counseling is no longer available, virtual training for Spring 2021 is already underway.

  • Beginning Level: Mondays 7-9 pm
  • Advanced Level: Mondays 7-9:30 pm
  • Intensive Training (5 weeks): Mondays 7-9:00 pm