SPOTLIGHT: Project Lighthouse

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This week for Heard on the Hilltop, we interviewed the head of Project Lighthouse, senior Ben Johnson, about the work that they have begun this past year to improve Georgetown’s mental health.

What is Project Lighthouse and how does it work?

Started last spring, Project Lighthouse has a website where you can anonymously log in from 7pm to 1am, 7 days a week with the exception of holidays. You chat in anonymously and confidentially with a Project Lighthouse peer supporter. They have no idea who you are, and you have no idea who they are. The goal for you to have a listener to bounce ideas off of. We encourage our Peer Supporters to stray away from saying “I understand.” People’s struggles are personal.

Peer Supporter training lasts for one semester, with three hours every Saturday. Each Saturday session features a skill and a topic, for example, depression and unconditional positive regard. There is an hour of lecture with a speaker, from the head of CAPS to a professor for Abnormal Psychology. They share the best practices, experiences of what it is like to actually treat these conditions. The second hour involves skills practice: we talk about how to talk to people and workshop helpful phrases to use in chat. The third hour involves a simulated chat, where Peer Supporters can experience the give and take of real conversation. Topics range from suicide to eating disorders to academic stress and social isolation. By the end of the semester, Peer Supports are ready to get online to chat.

Every night, Peer Supporters gather in an undisclosed location. There are two shifts, early and late of three hours each. When not chatting, Peer Supporters are free to work on homework. They chat as long as you need them to. Peer Supporters have a scheduling system, stating their ability the week before. Project Lighthouse has a budget through SAC and is currently in the New Club Development process.

How did Project Lighthouse get started?

Project Lighthouse had been in the works for a while, but the formation of the GUSA Mental Health Committee under the Rohan/Luther administration was certainly a turning point. It was the first time that this sort of committee had existed, and we wanted to create some sort of listening approach. Georgetown has counseling resources, but there are problems with accessibility, cost, stigma, and information. The aim of Project Lighthouse is to address these four issues. People are weary about spending money, worry about the stigma around going to see CAPS, can’t find time in a 9 to 5 schedule, and want to remain anonymous. Project Lighthouse seemed like the most obvious solution. It was never intended to be a be-all-end-all solution, but we can provide support on a campus like Georgetown, with a busy culture that can often leave students feeling lonely. You don’t really expect to see your friends around finals when you feel the most stress, and it’s nice having someone to connect to and listen to. Getting your rant out can be very therapeutic. We push other resources on campus, most often Health Education Services (HES), which is completely free administrative office that provides health outreach as well as free and confidential counseling for specific issue areas, such as substance abuse and sexual assault.

What kind of problems do you see?

It can really be anything. While we may not have the training or information to work with everything, we can refer you to someone who can. I tell people that some people have mental illness, but everyone has mental health. Project Lighthouse is here for anyone who wants to use it. 50% of chats touch on social concerns, and academic concerns are mentioned in nearly 90% of chats. Many students are comfortable complaining to their friends, but they may not reveal that they truly are worried about or struggling with something academically. A lot of students are terrified of letting down their parents.

Most of our chats last between 35-40 minutes, but there is no obligation for the chats to be that long or that short — we have talked to people from fifteen minutes to two and a half hours. It’s at the chatter’s discretion.

What would you tell someone who is hesitant to use Project Lighthouse?

You can’t knock it ’til you try it! People that hesitant to reach out probably don’t want to try anything. We have really good people — it’s your nicest friends that are the kind of people who join Project Lighthouse. You may not know them personally, but they are the ones their friends turn to when they are in trouble. Having this resource on campus is huge, and it’s OK to chat in with minor things — you aren’t wasting our time. Once, someone chatted in later into the year asking about how to use the GUTS bus because they were embarrassed they still didn’t know. Later in that same conversation, they asked more about CAPS and other mental health resources on campus. It’s a small deal, but it can be the first step to changing a situation that is bothering you. Project Lighthouse is the least committal step, but it is a step if you already know there’s a situation in your life that you would like to change. You can close out of a chat at any time.

How would someone get involved in Project Lighthouse?

Check us out at CAB fair, since that is where we do most of our recruiting. We hold the training classes every semester. There is not an interview process, and we aren’t super selective because the training itself is pretty self-selecting. It’s not easy to be a peer supporter — it’s a heavy time and emotional commitment. We take everyone who signs up for the training and keeps coming every week.

How did you personally get involved?

I have been on GERMS since my freshman year. I noticed that Georgetown is a pretty healthy campus — people work out, eat pretty well, and are young. Because of that, riding on the GERMS ambulance is not necessarily exciting. However, the serious things you see are often mental health issues — panic attacks, stress issues, and even suicide attempts. These were the most serious things, the things that kept me up at night.

My sophomore year, we got a call about a suicide attempt and talked the student into coming to the hospital with them. EMTs should not have to handle mental health issues. It shouldn’t reach an emergency situation. It’s a situation no one wants to get into. So I asked myself, how can I bring change to this community? It’s Georgetown, so I started a student group. The community culture causes the stress, so it’s up to the community to change that and protect its members. That’s where the idea for Project Lighthouse came from. Someone has to step in to help the Georgetown community before crises happen. Who better than the Georgetown community itself?

Visit http://www.projectlighthousegu.com/ to chat in.

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Getting to Know GUSA

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Last year, we restructured GUSA: Now, we have a variety of policy teams that consist both of elected GUSA Senators and appointed members by the Executive through an application process. Applications are due Friday, September 3rd at 11:59pm, and more information can be found on the Facebook event here. GUSA policy teams range in topic, and there’s a home for everyone in GUSA. We talked to members of different policy teams at the GUSA Fair last Friday, and here’s what they had to say about their policy teams:

Academic Affairs

“The Academic Affairs team is a great opportunity to discuss issues and propose developments to academic life on campus that affect students university-wide, from all four undergraduate schools. We hope to make an impact this year on topics including course registration and internships, so come join our team and lend your voice to these important conversations! We hope our efforts can make Georgetown an even more student-friendly environment for you, your friends, and students to come.” – Brendan Saunders

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Sustainability

“The environment is one of the most important issues of our day. We enact policy change on campus, in order to make a better campus for us today and a better world for the future.” – Ben Zimmer

“In order to be stewards of the planet, we must first be stewards of the university.” – Ben Baldwin

 

Student Worker Affairsimg_1750

“The Student Worker Affairs Team is important because a ton of students quality for work student and there aren’t enough work study jobs. We can be a resource for student workers and help build power for students in the campus workplace.” – Lily Ryan

 

Transfer Council

“The transfer policy team, also known as the Transfer Council, is a great way to give back to the transfer community. We put on programming specifically designed to give transfer students a leg up on the hilltop, as well as advocate for transfer-specific issues with university administrators.” – Sydney Jean Gottfried

img_1752Technology

“Tech advisory is very important because almost all the school work we have has to be submitted in an electronic form, so we need good technology from the university. Our main goals are to facilitate communication between UIS and the student body to better represent our needs–SAXANet, software, labs, and printing make our lives easier and student life possible.” – Yafet Negash

 

img_1753Socioeconomic Inclusivity

“We have to reduce barriers that Hoyas face on a regular basis. We try to make it possible to have a full Georgetown experience and be able to graduate without hidden costs. Georgetown prides itself on a financial aid system that meets everyone’s needs 100%, need blind. This isn’t really the case after a student arrives on campus. Many aren’t aware of the extra costs when they arrive on campus–laundry, dining, supplementary course materials, textbooks, transportation to and from airports and train stations. Financial aid doesn’t cover those things.” – Owen Hayes

 

img_1754Mental Health

“We are focused on finding creative solutions to policy and culture-related problems on campus. We are excited to have as many minds in the conversation as possible to really improve/make Georgetown a better and more inclusive place.” – Sylvia Levy

 

img_1755Accessibility

“Accessibility is important because Georgetown is a place where it can be hard to get around physically if you are disabled. Making Georgetown more accessible is important. It’s wonderful to be in a GUSA policy team with a ton of help from Enushe and Chris. We have found a lot of awesome friends with cool reasonings and personal experiences. It has been truly inspiring.” – Kenneth Mars

 

sexualassaultSafety & Sexual Assault

“The Safety and Sexual Assault Policy Team addresses really important issues that affect all students on campus. We run awareness campaigns, craft policy asks, and interface with campus resources like the Georgetown University Policy Department and Health Education Services. Our ultimate goal is to create a culture of care on the Hilltop!” — Maddy Moore

Communications

“GUSA Comms is a fun, artistic group to be in. Everyone has different skills and experiences in terms of social media, web design, graphic design, and organizational skills. We run GUSA’s Facebook page, website, and blog. We help provide transparency and accessibility to GUSA for the student body. It’s important to have as many voices as possible in campus conversations, and we help bring as many people as possible to the table.” – Angela Caprio

“We sing. We dance. We take requests.” – Natalia Peña

(We do take requests–If you have a GUSA event in need of a Facebook event and graphics or would like us to advertise your event on our Facebook page, please fill out this form here.)

Learn more about these policy teams and all of the others on our website! Don’t forget to submit your policy team applications by Friday, September 23 at 11:59pm.

Welcome to the brand-new GUSA blog

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You never have to wonder again what GUSA is doing to help their fellow Hoyas. Here you will find new posts daily with news and information directly from the various policy teams on how they’re trying to make your life at Georgetown even better and how you can get involved!

If there’s a specific issue that you’re passionate about, click on the Policy Team category links on the right side of the page to see only posts from that specific policy team.

Welcome & don’t forget to like our Facebook page for updates!