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Sun Devils keep sense of community alive online

Range of student-led support sessions available via Zoom, multiple times per day

girl making Sun Devil pitchfork

April 23, 2020

When times get tough, sometimes the best place to look for support and guidance — or even to just take a break from it all — is among those who are going through the same kinds of struggles.

For the past two years, Devils 4 Devils at Arizona State University has been working to improve the social and emotional well-being of students through a unique model of peer-to-peer outreach and engagement.

Now, as we take measures to shelter in place and keep our distance from each other, the program has launched Devils 4 Devils Support Circles, a series of virtual, peer-led Zoom sessions covering a wide range of topics — from adjusting to being back at home, to building good habits, to belly dancing — that are available multiple times per day, Mondays through Saturdays, allowing students to continue making meaningful connections in spite of current physical boundaries.

As soon as classes at ASU went to remote learning in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, Devils 4 Devils president Mason Ford said the group realized they needed a way to continue to be there for students.

“So we brainstormed and we came up with the solution of Support Circles, providing digital communities in a time when we have to practice social distancing and we’re away from the communities that we’re typically a part of,” he said.

While the Support Circles are not intended as a substitute for clinical therapy, the Devils 4 Devils program operates hand-in-hand with ASU Counseling Services, and the students leading the sessions have been trained in practical skills like active listening and how to direct students to further resources if needed.

“We have two goals,” said Ford, a second-year sports law and business graduate student. “One is to create a space that allows students to be part of a community. The second is to serve as a template for individual students or student organizations to create their own communities. It’s all about community and how we can provide a way for students to connect in this time.”

He and other Devils 4 Devils members, including vice president and global health sophomore Nithara Murthy, came together (virtually) to get the Support Circles up-and-running in just a matter of days. This is their fourth week online, and they’re finding the sessions to be just as helpful for themselves as for the students they serve.

“Transitioning to online classes has definitely been an adjustment,” said Murthy, who prefers in-person instruction. On Fridays, she leads a session titled “Bullet Journaling, Meditation and Positive Affirmations.”

“I had never done bullet journaling before, but I realized it helps to create structure for your day,” she said. “So every week, I’m learning how to do it along with people in the Support Circle, and we’re growing together.”

They’re also having fun together. Another session Murthy leads is called “Learn Belly Dancing With Me.”

“If you’re spending all your time online taking classes, you should be able to log on and do something fun, too,” she said, noting that sessions like the belly dancing one can be a good alternative for students who now find themselves without access to campus fitness complexes and facilities. “I just hope whoever leaves the support session leaves feeling a little bit better than they did before, and a little bit more connected to the ASU community.”

Nutrition sophomore Rachel Thomas participated in a Support Circle led by Murthy in which they discussed books, music and movie recommendations.

“Without really realizing it until after the session, I had been in a pretty down mood that day,” Thomas said. “When I decided to join the session, I wasn't really knowing what to expect. … For the next hour, we talked about those topics and even went on to discuss what we are at ASU for and what our goals are for the future. … Honestly, that session was the highlight of my day. It allowed me to converse ‘face-to-face’ with someone, which I haven't done in a while due to the quarantine. It was really nice and gave me a good mood boost.”

She and Murthy now follow each other on social media and plan to keep in touch in the future. Thomas also plans to continue participating in the Support Circle sessions.

“Peer-to-peer support is really unique and is something I believe to be necessary for personal well-being,” said Thomas, an online student who lives in Indiana. “Devils 4 Devils Support Circles allow me to interact with other ASU students in a way that I wouldn't have imagined before now. I know it's not the same as being together in person, but being able to see someone's face and talk to them via Zoom is such an awesome opportunity! It is allowing me to make friends with students who I may have never met otherwise.”

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