By Connor Toups
She listened as I told her everything — of being at a party, of a boy behind me, of him leading me to the woods, of me letting him, of hating myself for telling him I wanted it, of immediately regretting it. She listened as I sat there, tears streaming down my face, my breath likely still smelling of alcohol, my shirt stained with water from when I’d gone into the bathroom and tried to wash his taste from my mouth. She listened, and she put a hand on my knee, and she told me it would be okay, and we sat there.
She, completely unsurprisingly, is my freshman PHE, and on that night, she didn’t listen with a third of her attention, she didn’t console me with just a third of her kindness, and she didn’t genuinely care about me with a third of her heart. She did, however, get paid a third of what the RAs who live next door make.
My name is Connor Toups; I am a freshman; I am someone who relies on my PHE; and I support PHEs in their requests for fair pay.
For anyone who may not know, Peer Health Educators (PHEs) are residential staff who, according to Vaden’s description, “are peer specialists in health and wellness in their houses.” They, essentially, serve as the go-to person in the dorm when it comes to sexual health, physical health and mental health.
As the 17 signatory PHEs explain in their op-ed, PHEs get paid a yearly salary of $3,075 compared to the $11,822 RAs receive. This disparity exists despite the fact that PHEs have more extensive and specialized training, continuously attend additional workshops throughout the year and report an average weekly workload equal to that of RAs.
This insufficient salary presents real-world issues to the state of mental health treatment and education on campus. Two years ago, numerous dorms went without a PHE after several RFs chose to boycott the program in protest of low wages while other RFs simply weren’t matched with a PHE because of the low applicant pool. This should surprise no one; if wages are too low to justify the work, students won’t apply to be PHEs. That should scare anyone who understands that having adequate wellness resources in residential living is key to supporting students’ wellbeing.
More broadly, Stanford’s lack of commitment to paying PHEs equitably is particularly bizarre and distressing in the face of new evidence showing a rise in mental health diagnoses on college campuses and low rates of treatment among those with a diagnosis. PHEs are at the frontline of the fight to treat mental health conditions effectively. They are the ones in freshman dorms, listening to students, comforting them, connecting them to support, educating them. Turning our backs on them, in this moment, is a grave misstep that would remove one of the most effective tools in supporting students from our arsenal.
Fundamentally, paying PHEs is not simply a matter of fairness. This argument shouldn’t just be about credits and training time and hours spent working. Paying PHEs a fair wage is about what kind of school we are. Are we a school that recognizes the rise and prevalence of mental health conditions as a modern-day health crisis and responds with the full force of our financial weight, or do we shirk our duty and treat mental health with one third of the attention — and money — it deserves? Do we, in the face of a class-action lawsuit regarding mental health policies on campus, acknowledge our shortcomings and commit ourselves to doing better, or do we bury our heads in the sand and confine ourselves to the status quo? Do we give into cynicism and condemn students with mental health conditions to an isolated, unsupported, unhappy time here, or do we choose hope and demand from ourselves and from our school a policy that commits itself to supporting student wellness in every way possible? This school must make it clear that mental health is not a one-third type of issue; Stanford needs to put its money where its mouth is and prove that this school and its financial resources are 100 percent dedicated to supporting students’ mental health in any way possible. Paying PHEs a fair wage is a crucial first step in that mission.
Those of a similar belief can sign this petition and demand that ResX take meaningful action to remedy this situation.