25 years ago, the Vaden Health Center launched an ambitious and daring program to integrate health and wellness services directly into the Stanford residential experience. The initiative called for Peer Health Educators — also known as PHEs — to live in various dormitories and select row houses on campus to promote health and wellness resources. Since the program’s inception, the duties and responsibilities of these individuals have grown substantially. Today, these students provide extensive services ranging from peer coaching, referrals to mental and physical health resources, hosting creative workshops on alcohol use and safe sex, and even administering para-clinical first aid.
This year marks the silver jubilee of the PHE program, which has grown from a small group of students to a cohort of 28 highly-specialized and uniquely-trained student staff placed in residences across campus. PHEs are required to participate in the full schedule of staff training in addition to a four-unit mandatory class that prepares them for their distinct role in the residential ecosystem. These individuals must adhere to the same conditions and requirements as every other staff member while simultaneously handling the specific responsibilities inherent to their role.
According to a survey of the 2015-2016 cohort, PHEs reported an average weekly workload of approximately 10 hours, which is comparable to the anticipated work of Resident Assistants (RAs). In addition, PHEs are the only student staffers that attend continuing education workshops and meetings throughout the school year. And this makes sense — one would expect the role of the health and wellness emissary in the dorm to require the highest level of training and support, especially at an institution where “Duck Syndrome” is ubiquitous and where perceived lapses in student mental health care have even led to a nationally-syndicated lawsuit.
Despite the significant scope of this role, Stanford compensates PHEs with a yearly salary of $3,075. To put this in perspective, RAs currently receive a flat-rate stipend of $11,822, and Resident Computer Consultants (RCCs) are paid an average of $7,000 annually. Although having responsibilities that often overlap — and in cases exceed — that of a Resident Assistant, PHEs are awarded less than 30 percent of a comparable RA’s salary.
If you talk to us PHEs, we won’t tell you that this differential in pay is reflected in the quality of care and magnitude of effort we put into our duties. We won’t tell you that we have to clean up 30 percent of vomit and hold up 30 percent of an ill student’s head on the toilet. We won’t tell you that we stayed with a resident in the emergency room 30 percent of the time. We won’t tell you that we only talk through 30 percent of a student’s mental health struggles. We won’t tell you that we only have to file 30 percent of Clery reports. And we won’t tell you that we only gave this position 30 percent of our all.
We will tell you that we do our best to provide an essential service to our residents regardless of compensation. We chose this job because we care about supporting wellness in our homes, because we care about getting students the mental and physical help they need, and because we care that the Stanford community has the resources and support necessary for our collective safety and growth.
We are calling on the ResX Task Force to implement changes that provide PHEs the same level of compensation as Resident Assistants. Equal pay for equal work is a simple but powerful mantra that Stanford has ignored in the continuation of this inequity.
There are two plausible explanations for why this pay gap might exist. First, if PHEs demonstrably have a much lower workload than RAs and are not expected to have the same level of expertise as other staff members. However, PHEs tend to report a weekly commitment that is roughly equivalent to that of RAs and more highly variable given the specialized nature of the role. Furthermore, over the course of the preceding Spring quarter and the year as a staff member, PHEs are required to take over 50 additional hours of training.
The second explanation for the inequality, and one that we sincerely hope is incorrect, is that Stanford University genuinely values PHEs — and the services in health and wellness we provide — far less than any other core staff member and their duties. What message does it send to students if the point-person for their mental health concerns, physical injuries and wellness resources is implicitly worth a third of their co-staff? How can this lack of support be reconciled with Student Affairs’ stated commitment to “mental health and well-being” as part of the University’s long term residential strategy?
We are glad that the ResX Task Force is actively looking for ways to improve the residential experience for every Stanford student. We wholeheartedly agree that “mental health and well-being” is a key component of student success and should be supported on both an individual basis and institutionally. But this university’s failure to adequately provide for the people that dedicate their time at Stanford to uphold this standard and this communal necessity indicates either ignorance or indifference towards the 28 students that have accepted this vital role. We hope that by working with ResX, the Stanford community and other stakeholders, we can eliminate this attitude and focus on creating an environment in which students are fully supported and their potential is unlimited. Regardless of the outcome, we will continue to fight for our residents and for our communities. We simply hope that the Stanford community will fight for us too.
Urge your community to support PHEs. Join us in our fight for equality by signing this petition.
With love and support, your PHEs <3
Yessica Martinez Mulet
Marissa Juliana Wilson
If you would like to contact those involved with this petition, email Kyle Dixon at kyledix ‘at’ stanford.edu