By Christine van der Horst
– In just two weeks, from the 7th until the 11th of November, the second edition of the AUC ‘Mental Health Week’ will take place. In light of this week, Peer Support has organized various events that will all share the main goal of breaking taboos surrounding mental illnesses and disorders. In the midst of their preparations for this occasion, Peer Support has launched another big project: The Living Room.
Whereas most of the common rooms in the dorms are commonly left unused, often because they are too dirty to serve any other purpose than late night partying, the common room on the second floor of the first building is a welcome exception to the rule. Upon entering this well furnished, cozy and above all, clean room with a fuzzy dark blue rug covering the characterizing green floors, one gets greeted by big white teeth, liters of tea and unlimited cookies – a warm welcome to Peer Support’s brand new Living Room.
Peer Support has been working on finalizing this project since the end of the last semester. Antonia Nicholls, a second year Social Science major and the Peer Support Chair, told The Herring about the current office hours in the RA’s office and how they are not frequented as much as Peer Support would have wanted.
“We feel like students have the idea that they first need a good, legitimate reason to visit us there, which keeps them from doing so,” Nicholls explained. The Living Room is designed to be a second, less formal home base to both Peer Support and all other AUC Students. “Students can just come over and chill or have a chat with us, but they can also study here if they want to,” Nicholls said.
Juul Spaan, a second year Social Science major, is the Peer Supporter who originally came up with the idea of creating the Living Room. Spaan says that the room will not only serve as Peer Support’s home base, but will also function as a common room for all AUC students. “There are so many useless common rooms all over the dorms,” she says. “We want the Living Room to be a common room for everyone to enjoy,” Spaan points out.
Peer Support will also be using the common room for workshops and basic sessions on a wide range of topics surrounding mental health and student life. The weekly opening hours are from 18:00 to 20:00 on Thursdays. Additional opening hours, discussions, and workshops will be announced on Peer Support’s Facebook page.
Peer Support acquired the common room due to an offer from students living in this particular string. “One day they just proposed it themselves,” said Peer Support Treasurer and third year Humanities major Stefan Plug. “None of the Peer Supporters live in this string, but I can be found here half the time,” Plug said. To guarantee every string member’s approval, the Peer Supporters knocked on all doors to explain what the Living Room would be, and to hand out a consent form which all string members had to sign.
Most tenants were glad their previously rather messy common room now has a clear purpose, while others did not really care. “It is not as if they have taken over,” Simone, first year Humanities major, said. “We can still use the common room if we want to, we just need to have Peer Support’s permission. Before I would have asked my string members for permission: it is not that big of a difference,” Simone said. Despite the fact that most string members answered ‘no’ to the question if they would attend the sessions themselves, they all supported the initiative.
Once tenants had given their permission, Peer Support started gathering furniture and painting to give the common room a real living room feel. Even though part of the donations to Peer Support were stolen out of the common room during summer, they managed to launch their project on the 6th of October with a session on eating disorders.
During this session, AUC graduate Anouk Joanne van Eekeren – who did the pre-med track and is now taking a gap year between her bachelor and her masters, spoke open-heartedly about her own fight with anorexia, and how she experienced recovering from her eating disorder at AUC. Van Eekeren emphasized the importance of seeking help and breaking the stigma surrounding eating disorders. The session enabled the opportunity to ask questions or share personal experiences and ended with a brainstorm session on how the student body could improve the support system at AUC.
Spaan was very content with the results. “There were just the right amount of people to preserve the confidential setting,” she said. It is yet to be seen if more students will seek Peer Support’s help in the common room than during the office hours at the RA’s office. For now Peer Support will mainly focus on the Mental Health Week, looking back on a successful first session with great satisfaction.