2/13/2016 3:50:03 AM

PEEPs in the Classroom

Monday, December 09, 2013

By Mike Clemens '15

For Siena students, living the Franciscan tradition means trying to make a difference in their world. For some, “making a difference” hardly scratches the surface. Students in the Peer Education and Empowerment Program, known as PEEPs, are committed to educating fellow students about sexual and relationship violence, which will enable them to become active bystanders in the College community.

The student-run organization was formed two years ago entirely by students who recognized the scale of this problem on college campuses and decided to do something about it. “The students brought this idea to the administration,” said Joy Galarneau, Ph.D., associate dean of students and a faculty advisor to the PEEPs. “They came to us and said that they wanted to teach other students how to become active bystanders and to work to create a more peaceful community. The formal group started from there.”

To spread their message, the group launched an initiative called PEEPs in the Classroom. It is a series of in-class workshops where PEEPs instruct first-year students about issues pertaining to sexual violence and teach them how to recognize and prevent assault. “Peer education is one of the best ways to present the message of anti-violence,” said Galarneau. “The classroom is a really impactful setting for getting that message across. The PEEPs wanted to engage more students, but especially freshmen who could become involved early in their college careers.” 

The PEEPs found a forum for their instruction in the classes of Pete Murray, a First-Year Seminar professor whose course focuses on the theme of democracy. “I wanted to train my students with the skills they would need to be active, democratic citizens and to work for change,” Murray said. “When I heard about the PEEPs, I thought that their goals and mine fit very well together.”

For the past year PEEPs have gone into Murray’s classroom three times to run workshops with his students. “The interest we’ve seen from freshman so far has been incredible,” said Cynthia Austin ’15. “We’ve told them about a lot of difficult situations and they’ve been very responsive to them and to our message. I can tell that these sessions are making a difference in how they think about violence.”

Although they are a new group, the PEEPs have already begun to attract positive attention. “I've been really impressed by their dedication. They are putting their time and energy into this like nothing else,” Murray said. “They're so dedicated to the cause that when I'm in the room with them I feel the energy. I think that says a lot."

The PEEPs are hoping that the impact they have made will continue to expand as more people become aware of their work. “No one should have to feel unsafe,” said Afzaal Shareef ’14. “This is a work in progress but it’s something that, if you get enough people involved, you can change the culture.” 

That change can already be seen. “A student last year said told me: 'You just can't unlearn this stuff,'” Murray said. “That's completely true. Once you hear what the PEEPs have to say, you are in a place where you can't ignore violence any longer. You have to do something about it.”

Contact: Ken Jubie
Contact E-mail: communications@siena.edu

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