This month, Cornell’s Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service (EARS) celebrates its 45-year anniversary, making it one of the nation’s oldest peer-counseling programs in higher education. A new website, targeted to undergraduate and graduate students and funded by an anonymous alum of EARS, has been launched in recognition of this milestone.
“The EARS program has offered support to students on this campus for decades, some of whom might be going through a difficult time and others who just need a listening ear,” said Gregory Eells, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Gannett Health Services/Cornell Health. “We have been fortunate to have outstanding undergraduate and graduate student peer counselors who have been willing to share their time, empathy and knowledge of local and campus resources with others. In recent years EARS has more intentionally expanded training and support for graduate students and graduate student volunteers.”
EARS was started in 1972 by Florence Berger, professor emerita in the School of Hotel Administration, and a group of faculty wives, to respond to requests for informal counseling. The program was inspired in part by psychologist Robert C. Carkhuff’s belief that peer counselors can effectively deal with student problems because they are in similar circumstances and have had similar experiences.
The EARS model was also influenced by the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, who believed all individuals are inherently able – with support – to find clarity within themselves and resolve their own problems. The model was refined by Tanni Hall, associate dean of students and EARS adviser from 1986 to 2003, who drew from other counseling experts to provide student counselors with a formalized counseling approach.
“For 45 years, every week of the semester, seven days a week, support has been available for students, by students,” said Janet Shortall, EARS director. “I encourage all students to check out the new EARS website – you never know when you or someone you know could benefit from contacting a counselor.”
In addition to providing peer counseling and information to students about on- and off-campus counseling and support resources, EARS training is a resource for those wanting to strengthen their interpersonal communication skills. Many students take EARS training to develop their listening skills, without necessarily planning to become counselors.
For several years, EARS has also served as a hub for an online chat service sponsored by the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca.
Today’s undergraduate and graduate counselors reflect a variety of backgrounds and nationalities. EARS currently has 56 counselors and offers hours every day (Sunday through Thursday, 3-10:30 p.m.; Friday 3-10 p.m.; and Saturday 6-10 p.m.), by phone and in person at its Willard Straight offices (Room 213).
As one student who came to EARS this past semester said: “It can be hard at Cornell to have conversations even with close friends – we’re all so busy. EARS taught me that we don’t have to pretend to be OK at all times. Sometimes it just helps to talk things out instead of bottling everything up inside.”