UBC launches new Wellness Mentor program to support IBPOC students

UBC’s Wellness Centre has launched a new program to support IBPOC students.

The IBPOC Wellness Mentors program was designed to support students who identify as Indigenous, Black or Persons of Colour. The pilot program — which started in September — offers these students a chance to connect with fellow IBPOC students, or Wellness Mentors, and have conversations about shared experiences and ideas.

To access the program, students can attend virtual or in-person drop-in hours where they can have individual or group conversations with trained student staff.

After reflecting on the previous Wellness Peers program, which ran for 21 years, and consulting with many students, it was made clear that representation in the services offered by the Wellness Centre was important.

“What we've heard from students, especially those who identify as IBPOC is the need for spaces, and for individuals which they feel more comfortable with who share a similar affinity, specifically around their identity,” said Levonne Abshire, an interim co-director of Health Promotion and Education at UBC.

Diana Jung, a health promotion specialist and the coordinator of the IBPOC Wellness Mentors program, said “[their] unit has always valued representation and diversity, but taking that targeted approach and naming it was important for us to try this year.”

According to Melissa Kimwere, a fourth-year psychology major and one of the program’s wellness mentors, students often express that the sessions help them feel validated as they are able to speak with other IBPOC students who share similar experiences as them.

“Because I identify as a Black student, I was very much for the idea because … with the pandemic … there was a lot of overwhelming stuff that was going on and students needed as much support as possible. And I really think having support from fellow students … has been very helpful just because we all tend to have similar experiences,” she said.

Jung added that another benefit of having a peer-to-peer program is that sometimes it’s easier to talk with another student instead of a staff member or advisor.

Since the IBPOC Wellness Mentors program just started in September, it has taken a little while to get the word out to students. However, as word has spread about the program, there has been an increase in traffic, and Jung hopes to see more students stop by as the term moves forward.

“As the term continues, and into the second term, we’re hoping to see more students come by” she said.

On top of the Wellness Mentors program, the Wellness Centre offers Wellness and Chill sessions for IBPOC students every Wednesday. At these sessions students can hangout and play games or chat with an IBPOC Wellness Mentor.

If a student wants more information or is seeking help, they are encouraged to go to the Wellness Centre. “It takes courage to take balance when it comes to looking at your health and wellness while [being] a student and to take the time to do that is … really commendable and something that we hope all students, staff and faculty … make time for,” Jung said.

— with files from Nathan Bawaan