What does it mean to be a peer educator?

What does it mean to be a peer educator?

Karen Walker, Peer Education Intern

Karen Walker, Peer Education Intern

Written by Guest Blogger Karen Walker, SSDP Peer Education Intern

As the Peer Education Program launches this fall, SSDPers will have the opportunity to facilitate open and honest conversation about drug policy while educating their peers on safe and responsible drug use. In order to successfully implement this program and shift attitudes on campus, students must first have a genuine understanding of what it means to be a peer educator and the importance of such a role.

Students have a unique advantage of creating a meaningful learning environment by having the ability to communicate on a level playing field with other students, while professors, faculty, or other figures on campus might have difficulty doing that due to their defined role on campus. As many students know, when seeking information about drug use, students turn to other students first because they can understand and trust one another to share their experiences and discuss what they know. Peer educators have the same ability to do so, but with factual references and further resources to solidify their information. Being a peer educator means that students will have the ability to not only discuss experiences and knowledge learned on the street but to join together those stories with fact-based information and reliable resources to ground the conversation. This allows peer educators to both teach and learn from others and make an impact on campuses that passing conversations simply could not do.

With the help of Facilitator’s Guides for every session, students will have the framework for holding a successful program. However, the Peer Educator must also remember to remain professional and engaging. When speaking to a group, it is easy to lecture and present, but difficult to engage the audience and direct meaningful discussions. In order for the program to run smoothly and have lasting impact, it is important that the Peer Educator comes prepared, including reviewing the materials, practicing the presentation, and advertising the event.
As the leader of the program, the Peer Educator should be honest, comfortable and confident speaking to groups, and should take initiative. Since the program will be in its initial stages, it may take time before results show and for the program to gain traction. This should not discourage Peer Educators; through gathering feedback, communicating with Outreach Coordinators, and remaining dedicated, students will help to improve the program for future success.

While discussing a topic that is stigmatized so heavily and is oftentimes emotionally charged, Peer Educators should be prepared for opposition. Personal experiences with drug use, both legal and illegal, as well as problematic use and addiction will likely be the cause of such controversy. When a situation such as this arises, it is important to remember that you are acting as a connection to resources rather than “all-knowing.” Always accept another’s experience, rather than demean it or refute it, and refer back to the facts. Having open conversation includes both positive and negative experiences, and being prepared to handle surprises professionally will be an important skill for educators to develop.

Most central to the Peer Education is the fact that this program is a pioneer; never has a program existed to give fact-based information and speak so openly about drug policy and drug use. Students participating in Peer Education sessions will have been only taught to “just say no” at best and have never engaged in a controlled learning environment focused on this topic. The chance to provide scientific evidence, listen to diverse and unpredictable stories and experiences, gain an understanding of what information exists and does not exist on your campus, and connect fellow students to critical resources when seeking help holds immeasurable power to change campus attitudes towards drug policy and drug users.

You can get 10 points for writing a blog post / responding to the Reflection Questions from this Training Curriculum module.

Check out ssdp.org/justsayknow for more information on peer education!


Interested in earning CAT points and getting involved?