There’s something about cold mornings in Columbia. The air is crisp and bites into your lungs as you take a deep breath. Most students are bundled in hoodies and coats on the way to class, but other students are starting their early morning job with the Russell House Student Union, setting up chairs and tables on Greene Street in preparation for the events to happen later in the day. The vendors and student organizations make their way to Greene Street around noon to begin setting up their things, but while the vendors and orgs are there to promote themselves with the local college population, the students are there to educate their peers on topics such as sexual health, health in relationships, mental health, and even all-around general wellness. Those students are the Changing Carolina Peer Leaders.
In the Fall of 2020, I met Quinnyanna Brown, the faculty advisor for the sexual health special interest group at the time. I met Brown while she was tabling for recruitment outside of University Health Services. She had caught my attention merely because of her giant bowl of colorful items (which I then later learned to be condoms.) That day, my freshman year, I was introduced to the world of being a Changing Carolina Peer Leader, or, CCPL.
Changing Carolina Peer leaders is a faculty-led organization that is used to represent the student population within the walls of University Health Services. CCPL is split into four groups labeled as SPIGS, or, special interest groups. The four SPIGs are mental health, sexual health, healthy relationships, and general wellness. Each SPIG meets weekly to plan events that relate to their special interest.
The goal of the SPIGs is to plan and prepare events that can create an impact on our campus. As tabling events are planned, and before any items are created or prepared, SPIG chairs must walk through a document known as the action plan. The action plan was created by faculty to give peer leaders a chance to think about their motivations behind each event they plan. As peer leaders, students can take away skills such as event planning, but they can also take away valuable knowledge on how to reach out to their peers while also discussing issues that can be labeled as taboo.
“I noticed that since I feel very comfortable talking about sexual health, many of my friends over the years would turn to me to ask “embarrassing” or “awkward” questions,”
Throughout our lives, we encounter topics that may be on the heavier side, or they’re just plain awkward to talk about. Topics like that are the topics that peer leaders go out of their way to discuss with the UofSC community. Kate Bryan, the SPIG chair for sex and healthy relationships is all about tackling these topics. In the sexual health spig, the topics they tackle can range from destigmatizing masturbation to spreading information about consent and health in relationships. When asked why Bryan decided to hold the executive position of SPIG chair, she said, “I noticed that since I feel very comfortable talking about sexual health, many of my friends over the years would turn to me to ask “embarrassing” or “awkward” questions.” The Sex and Healthy Relationships SPIG are all about helping individuals become more relaxed in their own skin while providing resources to all students.
Since childhood, almost every person has gone through life with the understanding that some topics were only meant to be discussed between certain people and those topics could not branch into your day-to-day conversation, whether that topic is about mental wellbeing, STDs and sex or even eating disorders. CCPL does its best to break down those barriers and to walk with students who have lived their lives believing in such stigmas. One notable tabling event from my time with this organization would have to be my very first tabling event.
The event had been planned around NEDAW (National Eating Disorder Awareness Week) and the goal of the event was to make students aware of the free resources that our health center offers. Eating disorders had always been somewhat of an unspoken topic in my household since I was a kid. Growing up, I had always assumed I suffered from one but I had never mentioned it or thought that it was okay to ask to talk to my doctor about it. Ten-year-old me didn’t know that eating disorders were not as taboo as I had believed them to be. During this event, not only did I gain more information, but for the first time, I gave that information to a girl who seemed to need it more than just the people coming up to the table for the freebies. At the time, I had been thinking about leaving CCPL because I was starting to think the organization didn’t have a place for me, but after this event, I realized that I wanted to help make a change in someone’s life, even if all I was doing was giving them a pamphlet to read.
The world of being a changing Carolina peer leader is exciting and thought-evoking. From putting together action plans for tabling events to learning how to target a specific audience, peer leaders can gain skills that can complement a field of study regardless of its content. CCPL welcomes students from any major, whether it be public health, pre-med track, or anything of that sort, CCPL welcomes everyone. I am a second-year journalism major who holds an executive position within CCPL. As a journalism major, I have taken skills such as graphic design and event planning along with pushing myself to give presentations to U101 classes that once upon a time, I would never have been able to complete due to anxiety. CCPL allows for ideas to be born and for students to grow on a social and professional level.