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Wednesday, October 04, 2023 — Houston, TX

‘Students helping students’: RHAs discuss their roles

Jennifer Liu / Thresher

By Artie Throop     11/8/22 11:46pm

Whether offering you a Band-Aid, chatting about mental health or putting on a health education event, Rice Health Advisors are here for you. 

Piper Winn, a Baker College RHA, said that being an RHA requires acting as a support system and liaison to campus wellbeing resources for fellow Rice students.

“It’s a lot of just being there as a source of support and information for your peers,” Piper Winn, a sophomore, said. “I was really grateful to be a part of the Baker College community, and I [applied to be an RHA because] I wanted to be able to serve the community and give back in that way.”

Vishnu Susheer, a head RHA for Jones College, said he shares Winn’s sentiment about connecting with his peers.

“Even [living] off-campus, [being an RHA] allows me to be very connected to the college … It’s encouraged people to reach out to me if they need help,” Susheer, a junior, said.

Sarah Yang, a Will Rice College sophomore, said that while RHAs often act as support systems for their peers, her experience as an RHA has mostly rested upon casual check-ins and interactions.

“I think a lot of what I learned from becoming an RHA isn’t really formal,” Yang said “It isn’t like ‘Oh let’s sit down and have this talk.’ You’ll pass someone [and check in with them] and then you might talk for a bit.” 

As a mixed-race student, Yang said she also hopes that the scope of her RHA duties can extend to students of a similar demographic. 

“It’s a unique experience for mixed students where some of us feel like we don’t really connect as strongly with our community because we’re part of two communities,” Yang said. “[I wanted to] be able to connect with other students that way.”

Beyond acting as a resource for their peers, RHAs also frequently host wellbeing events that are open to Rice students. Every week, you can find five to 10 Jonesians doing yoga with the Jones head RHAs. Susheer said he hopes these events can provide a break from stress and fretting for students.

“I think life as a college student [means] there’s always something else to be done. [Yoga] is just thirty minutes out of your week you can set aside to enjoy yourself,” Susheer said.

These events are also often also twofold, providing a physical space to connect with RHAs. Indeed, Susheer said that weekly yoga grants students a regular opportunity to approach the RHAs about anything. 

“After yoga and meditation, anyone who wants to come to talk to me or Vanessa, the other head RHA, they know where to find us,” Susheer said. “It’s a space for people to come approach us if they need [to] because they know where we’re [going to] be.”

Saralyn McMorris, the Student Wellbeing Office staff advisor for the RHA program, said that  the peer support aspect of the RHA program is its biggest asset.

“The RHA program helps students connect with their peers for wellbeing resources. Sometimes it’s easier for students asking for assistance to connect with their peers who are experiencing similar situations,” McMorris said. “It’s all about students helping students.” 

Elisa Moralez, a Wellbeing advisor and Brown College alum, said she was an RHA and a cross-campus RHA coordinator when she attended Rice.

“I worked very closely with Saralyn as an RHA and one of the coords, so helping as a secondary staff advisor has been fulfilling. I really appreciate getting to see the program’s progress and success during the time I have been away from it,” Moralez said.

When the pandemic hit, Moralez found herself reflecting on the RHA program and realizing what this work meant to her. These reflections, Moralez said, allowed her to discover her career passions.

“The RHA program … helped me realize that what I am really passionate about is mental health and psychoeducation,” Moralez said. “I wanted to return to Rice, my second home, to try to help students like myself get the assistance they deserve and connect them to resources that are readily available.” 

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