Active Listening Workshops Key in Building Institutional Support Systems

Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of suicidal ideation and self harm.

The Peer Support Center is launching Active Listening Skills for Obies this April — a series of online workshops led by peer facilitators who teach active listening and conversational support skills while introducing students to campus resources. The workshop offers various interactive activities and small group discussions to develop skills around validation, normalization, open-ended questions, helping mindsets, and much more. These skills are critical to improving the ways in which Obies help each other and provide care, both during this pandemic and over the course of our time in college. 

Okay, so it’s about “Active Listening Skills” — why should they matter? These workshops perform a critical function both in educating us about our peer-to-peer interactions and in de-stigmatizing conversations about mental health. This pandemic has, frankly, kind of sucked, and everyone’s mental health has been impacted. We have all turned to friends and family in search of support, or reached out to those struggling to see how they are doing. In this way, you’ve already engaged in active listening skills. Yet there may still be times where you feel helpless or unprepared or unsure of how best to support your friends. These workshops form the basis for the application of those skills. Oberlin students are passionate, sensitive individuals who, as part of this community, have a collective obligation to be kind to and care for one another by educating ourselves on these support skills. 

The ALSO workshops are part of broader institutional work on student mental health that combines administrative and student-led projects to improve and expand mental health resources on campus. I have been engaged in this work for over two years, running for Student Senate on the platform of developing peer-led active listening workshops. I’ve developed impactful relationships with administrators, learned about higher education best practices for supporting student mental health, and advocated on behalf of greater capital investments in student projects, events, campaigns, and communication about mental health. I’ve learned that the key to improving mental health is taking a public health approach, acknowledging the responsibility of the community to making sure no one is left behind. The best way we build emotional resilience is through the support systems of our friends, family, peers, and educators, as well as the resources that bind us together. Participating in these active listening workshops is a way that we can acknowledge our presence in something larger than ourselves. 

Institutional data reveals that Oberlin is struggling when it comes to addressing mental health. The Healthy Minds web-based survey, administered through JED in 2019 and presented to the Board of Trustees, found critical issues with student Mental Health support. Of the 800 respondents, Oberlin students self-reported nearly double the national average of suicidal ideation. Just over five percent of students reported feeling that they had training on how to support suicidal or emotionally distressed peers, yet around 30 percent of students reported intervening in these situations in the past year. The statistics show Oberlin students are already involved in supporting their peers, yet they don’t feel adequately trained. These workshops are just one step in building the tools to support Oberlin mental health and wellness and by accepting that we can learn more about how to help others we make strides in becoming better peers, friends, partners, and people. 

Sign up at the link

For direct suicidal ideation response, the College offers Question Persuade Refer training to all students, faculty, and staff. 

Here are the steps to take:

  1. Navigate to:
  2. Enter the organization code “OBERLIN.”
  3. Select “Create Account.”
  4. Complete and submit the QPR student registration form, using your email address.
  5. QPR will display and email your newly created QPR Username and Password.
  6. Log in to begin training at