Pride Reps: Build a community while becoming a mentor
Last year, a new pilot program at Brandeis turned some part-time office jobs for college students into a robust peer-to-peer mentoring program for conversations about gender and sexuality.
The Gender and Sexuality Center selected a cohort of 10 “Pride Reps” who received weekly training during the fall semester before putting what they learned into action in the spring.
“One of the most invaluable parts of the college experience is the people you meet — the clubs, volunteer opportunities, and programs like this,” said Julián Cancino, first director of the Gender and Sexuality Center. “This program is about making sure that the students have a community and that they can build a community with each other.”
Fall training sessions included external speakers from LGBTQ+ organizations such as Keshet for LGBTQ+ Jewish Life, Fenway Health’s LGBTQIA+ Aging Project, the History Project and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders; and in-person training on how to put intersectionality theory into action, affirm the identities of others, engage in dialogue across differences, and engage in open conversations with peers.
During the spring, they held weekly taster sessions and informal one-on-one mentoring chats, where students could talk to Pride Reps about issues related to gender and sexuality, no matter how big or small. Pride Reps also hosted community building events in partnership with queer Jews in Brandeis, Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition and Triskelion, the first and longest running LGBTQ+ student club in Brandeis. During the pilot program, the GSC saw a 233 percent increase in student engagement.
What sets the Pride Reps program apart from other peer mentors is the introspective nature of its educational curriculum, according to Gender and Sexuality Center program administrator Eli Sobel, who oversaw the pilot program.
“At GSC, we believe that understanding your relationships to your own identity is an essential foundation for supporting others in their personal development,” said Sobel.
The Pride Reps’ training consisted of months of self-reflection and seminar-style discussions before the students opened their mentoring services to the larger Brandeis community.
“I was blown away by the level of empathy, insight and vulnerability shared by our Pride Reps during training,” Sobel said. “It gives me confidence that they are ready to be the most effective, confident and authentic peer mentors they can be.”
Maggie Hastings ’22 was a student assistant at the GSC during her sophomore years. As the Pride Reps pilot program began, she was able to witness the positive changes at the GSC.
“It was a fascinating new experience. We’ve learned so much and been hands-on in our own training and learning,” Hastings said. “Being an office worker at GSC was great, but it was a lot more passive than what we did as Pride Reps.”
The program has also created new friendships and bonds between students, Hastings said.
“I’ve gained so much community from Pride Reps,” Hastings said. “People I wouldn’t have met otherwise, or people I might have met in a class and never seen again. I’ve gained a better understanding of others, along with a deeper understanding of some important issues.”
The program is the latest step in the Gender and Sexuality Center’s transformation from a student-run, student-facing campus organization into an institutional commitment with professional staff creating services for women and LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff. Cancino took over the management of the center in 2020. Since then, the GSC has implemented new inclusion policies on campus, established a university-wide process to collect gender and sexuality data, and provided training for faculty and staff.
“The GSC is open to everyone,” Cancino said. “We are a resource for the entire Brandeis community.”
The Pride Reps program will continue as a pilot in the upcoming academic year, and there are plans to make it a permanent mentoring program. Future plans include working more closely with Brandeis faculty and the Waltham community.
“We see it as a mentoring program, transferring the knowledge of future mentors to other students,” Cancino said. “It is important that the students are not left alone with these discussions. Our students need our support and guidance.”