What I Learned By Becoming A Peer Educator

What I Learned By Becoming A Peer Educator

My freshman year of college, I accidentally became a peer educator.

I went searching on my school’s website for a sexual assault awareness group, and ended up applying for a job as a peer educator. At the time, I had no idea what that meant, but I did know that they were responsible for coordinating some on campus events that were very close to my heart, so I applied anyway. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Being a peer educator has taught me a lot about what it means to be an activist, an educator, and even a human being. The first few months at my new job were full of workshops and training sessions meant to give me a wider point of view about everything from sex, to relationships, to substance abuse, and even nutrition. After training, I was sent out onto campus to start working with students to help them achieve healthier lifestyles. The most important thing I was taught in training was that I was not there to tell my peers how they should live their lives, rather I was there to give them the correct information, to help them decide what choices were best for them, and to provide support for them when they needed it. It was a whole new approach to health education for young adults that I had never experienced, and the weirdest part was, it actually seemed to work.

Peer education programming has been proven to improve sexual health choices, reduce risky sexual behavior, reduce chances of substance abuse, and improve all around healthy behaviors in young adults. My experience of being a peer educator has shown me that young adults, especially students, respond best to advice and education when it’s given to them by people who understand their lifestyles and their needs. As a college student, I understood the pressure they felt to engage in certain activities, and how things like money and social status could prevent students from making healthy lifestyle choices. Since I understood what their pressures were, it was easier for me to help them find ways to work around them. I was able to help students pick choices that worked with their lifestyles as opposed to only being able to offer them one solution that wouldn’t help them in the long run.

Being able to relate to and understand your audience is an important technique for any educator or activist. If you don’t know what kind of issues people are facing, it’s impossible to try and fix them. Peer education has not only helped the students at my school become more aware of how they can protect themselves from physical, mental, and emotional issues, but it’s also helped me become a better teacher, friend, and advocate.

So if you’re interested in making a difference, check to see if you have a peer education group on campus or in your community. I can guarantee they’ll be happy to have you.

Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.