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Training teaches ASU students how to be caring, supportive friends

ASU students get training to learn how to spot stress, offer emotional support.
April 18, 2018

Devils 4 Devils helps peers to spot distress, ask questions and offer comfort

Stress is a natural state for college students, and talking it out with friends is a great way to cope. Over the past year, Arizona State University has been helping students learn how to become better listeners to their friends who need emotional support.

Devils 4 Devils is a unique kind of peer counseling that empowers students to confidently pay attention and react to students who are stressed or facing mental health issues. The peers learn practical skills like active listening and how to ask open-ended questions.

“The idea is that emotional well-being is all of our responsibilities. It’s not only the responsibility of the Counseling Center or the health centers,” said Aaron Krasnow, associate vice president of ASU Counseling Services and Health Services.

“People turn to each other all the time to get support. But we also recognize that sometimes we might feel unprepared to talk to friends about their emotional difficulties,” he said.

“How do you help the helpers?”

So Devils 4 Devils, which was launched about a year ago, offers four levels of training:

Video: A four-minute video on the ASU website explains the importance of emotional well-being in a college community and offers brief information about signs of distress and ways to help.

Video courtesy ASU Counseling

General helping skills: This two-hour training is open to any ASU student who is interested. Primary goals are to learn about mental health and signs of distress and to hone skills as a helper.

Leadership training: This two-and-a-half-hour session is open to student leaders in residence halls, student government, clubs, Greek life, athletics or other areas with a focus on mental health and signs of distress in individuals and in groups and ways to build and sustain emotionally healthy communities and teams.

Care Squad: A six-hour training for students who want an active role in mentoring and serving individuals and groups of students. After training, Care Squad members will provide direct service in the form of outreach training and events, drop-in support groups and workshops.

Over the past year, 612 students were trained in general helping skills, 56 student-leaders took leadership training and 73 students trained to become part of the Care Squad.

The sessions offer specific skills in how to ask someone how they’re doing in a way that creates the openness for response and how to communicate in an empathetic way.

“We also offer students ideas about what to do when you hear something that’s concerning or sad or scary. Because we all have those things in our life. And if I share my sadness with you, now you have to hold my sadness a little bit,” Krasnow said.

“And so it’s both how to ask and how to receive information. Because if you only teach someone how to ask, they’re underprepared for what to do with it.”

Krasnow said that sometimes students worry that a peer will share something that shows they’re really at risk.

“My answer is that they’re already talking to each other about their pain. But if they’re not, and someone shares that, thank goodness. Because that person can get help.

“What we don’t want is students to feel alone in their pain. What we don’t want is someone to be at risk and to think that there’s no one they can talk to.”

Preston Johnson, a graduate student at ASU, took the Care Squad training and found that students were happy to learn specific ways of responding.

“What are some ways to navigate those conversations without being charged with, ‘How do I fix this for them?’ ” he said.

“It was an in-depth look at how to be supportive rather than remediative.”

For example, when someone describes stress over an exam, don’t point out that that he or she should attend tutoring.

Advice comes from good intentions. “But the subtext can be, ‘I don’t want to experience that stress with you. I want you to be out of it,’" he said.

“An empathetic response takes vulnerability and effort. A simple response is, ‘Wow, it sounds like this class means a lot and you’re worried.’ It’s communicating, ‘It’s OK for you to feel this way in front of me.’ ”

Johnson said that Devils 4 Devils is about creating an environment where people feel supported in sharing their feelings.

“It builds on this philosophy that people in general can handle the things that come up in their own lives. What’s difficult is when you feel like, ‘I’m in this by myself.’"

Other universities offer peer counseling, but ASU is unique because the trained students are not part of Counseling Services and Devils 4 Devils is a university-wide wellness initiative, Krasnow said.

“There will never be enough professional counselors in the world for everybody who will be in pain, and nor should we think that all emotional pain should be dealt with by professional counselors,” he said. “We invest in professional counselors, and psychologists and social workers, we invest in peer-to-peer impact, we invest in online strategies and self-help, all to try and reach as many people as possible.”

Next, the individual colleges will have their own Devils 4 Devils.

“What’s the Devils 4 Devils engineering version? Or journalism version?” he said.

“By doing that we’ll adjust it even further because there will be college-culture components.”

Learn more about Devils 4 Devils and ASU Counseling Services

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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10 years, 200 books: Honoring indigenous scholarly activism

April 18, 2018

Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award selection committee chair David Martinez on a decade's worth of research

If you want to know something about scholarly activism and indigenous communities, the office of David Martinez would be a good place to start.

It’s the collective home of every book ever nominated for the Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award, now in its 10th year. (Check out a full list of Labriola book award winners.)

As chair of the selection committee, MartinezAkimel O’odham, Hia Ced O’odham, Mexican. has literally surrounded himself with a decade’s worth of research — as many as 200 books — by indigenous scholars, Native and non-Native, around issues of environmental justice, sexual violence, historical representation and tribal sovereignty.

“We get anywhere from 12 to 20 nominees each year,” said Martinez, an Arizona State University associate professor of American Indian studies, who was recruited in 2008 by ASU Foundation Professor Donald FixicoShawnee, Sac & Fox, Muscogee Creek and Seminole. and Regents’ Professor Peter Iverson to create a distinguished book award that honored scholarship in American Indian history and related fields.

At the time, there were few book awards within American Indian studies, but this has changed. From year to year, Martinez has seen a notable increase in opportunities for indigenous people-focused projects.

“Now more than ever, American Indian studies is relevant to the national discussion on democracy, which has come under assault. Nobody knows that better than tribal communities who have not always had their voices heard or counted toward policy decisions made on their behalf,” he said. “This is a time to pay attention to those voices.”

On the importance of visiting

Criteria for the Labriola book award emphasizes that the research be developed out of a meaningful relationship with the community on which it’s focused.

“The research must serve some need the community has, as opposed to research for the sake of research,” said Martinez, explaining that the idea stems from “our own intellectual history” — a standard set by Vine Deloria Jr., in his “Indian Manifesto” ("Custer Died For Your Sins," 1969), in which he criticized the social sciences for generating research that didn’t do the communities any good. “His belief was that work on Native communities must also work for Native communities.”

Deloria’s philosophy of socially embedded, use-inspired research — certainly a driving force at ASU — guided the work of Elizabeth Hoover in her 2017 book, "The River is in Us: Fighting Toxics in a Mohawk Community," this year’s winner of the Labriola award. 

liz hoover

Elizabeth Hoover

Hoover said the book came out of “kitchen-table conversations” with friends, workers, leaders and scientists in the remarkable upstate New York Mohawk community of Akwesasne, along the St. Lawrence River, who partnered up to develop grass-roots programs aimed at fighting environmental contamination and the threats it posed to their land, health and culture.

“There is something to be said for the importance of visiting and how it can impact a project,” said Hoover, the Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies at Brown University. “These slow-simmering conversations gave me the impetus for wanting to look at these health studies and how people were responding to them. I had friends working in a gardening group who made me want to think more about the impact of food and the way that contamination has these collateral impacts as well, such as concerns over exposure that cause people to avoid food.”

Hoover, the fourth consecutive Native American woman to receive the Labriola book award, says she wants people to find her work useful and for other Native communities to see what Akwesasne has accomplished.

“I want people to have this information and for other people to be inspired by this work, including scientists,” she added. “Some have written me to say they’re thinking about their work in a different way now.”

‘An ongoing awareness’

Martinez said Hoover’s book is an elegant example of a project that brings together the best in indigenous scholarship with the real-world needs of the community.

“Hoover is becoming one of the leading figures on the issues of food sovereignty and environmental justice for American Indians,” he said. “In the next five to 10 years, her work will be as important as Winona LaDuke’s.”

For most people, environmental crises emerged in the 1960s — but from an American Indian perspective, tribes have been deeply concerned about the impact of development on the environment since the first settlers appeared.

“The diverting of rivers and streams, the changing of non-farm land into farm land, the impact of mining and the railroads — Native people have always been alarmed by what’s going on,” Martinez said. “Hoover’s book represents an ongoing awareness among American Indians that the development that has been occurring in their lands since the time of colonialism has been creating this ever-going environmental crisis.”

In the face of such crises, the books that practically spill over the shelves of Martinez’s office are proof of indigenous resilience and, more importantly, resistance.

“It’s one thing to overcome the hardships that come with living in a colonial system,” Martinez said. “It’s another thing for those tribes to enact a political agenda that rebels against power and brings about real change.”

You can learn more about Hoover and her book at a special reception and Q&A session, hosted by ASU Library’s Labriola Center, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in C2 of Hayden Library.

Top photo: David Martinez poses for a portrait in his office at Discovery Hall on the Tempe campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist , ASU Library