Learning to listen

Student Listeners convene to understand how to offer support, lend an ear.

Adam Loyd
September 24, 2019
A group of Student Listeners takes a break from team building activities

In the early days of the school year, a group of more than 80 uppers and seniors met in the basement of Phillips Church to share stories, exchange ideas and above all else, practice effective listening techniques. 

The gathering was the first of a recurring weekly meeting for the members of the Student Listener Program. A leadership position within each of the 25 dorms on campus, Student Listeners provide a valuable resource for fellow dorm mates and day student affiliates by offering peer support and serving as an outlet for advice on any number of topics related to life at Exeter. 

Johanna Mautz, a licensed clinician and member of Exeter’s counseling team, along with Health Education Instructor Liz Hurley and longtime program coordinator and Associate Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Connie Morse, provides the framework, guidance and training for the program. 

Mautz opened the meeting by reading a poem appropriately titled “Listening.” 

“You are listening to me when you come quietly into my world and allow me to be me,” Mautz recited. 

With the tone and theme for the meeting set, second-year Student Listeners Leah Cohen '20 and Shelagh Coombs '20 broke the group into teams to work through a series of hypothetical situations. The prompts included scenarios regarding students struggling with homesickness, academic pressure and roommate issues. The exercise provided those new to the program an opportunity to learn from returning Student Listeners about how best to support dorm mates going through difficult times. 

Second-year Student Listener David Kim '20 spoke about how he encourages someone upset over a poor test score. 

“I’ll remind them ultimately you’re here to learn,” Kim said. “If you’re just getting good grades and not really trying, that’s not the purpose of Exeter.”

The gathering was the second of a two-part orientation. The day prior, students spent four hours at Camp Lincoln navigating high and low ropes courses and other team-building exercises while developing listening skills, communication and trust. 

“There was a lot of connectivity,” Mautz said. “It was very experiential and they had a chance to build a team and cohesion.”

First-year Student Listener Cristian Molina '21 said he was eager to join the program in an effort to help students who are struggling to find their place on campus. 

“I had a tough time assimilating, so I want to be able to help out students in a similar situation,” the Webster Hall resident said. 

Deniz Akman '20, in his second year as a Student Listener in Dow House, also decided to apply for the program to help new students ease into life at Exeter.

“I came here as a new lower and that was really challenging, so I understand how the new students feel,” he said. 

Akman spoke about the importance of making his presence in the dorm known early in the school year when new students may be feeling their most vulnerable.

“At the beginning of the year I let new students know I’m available to talk whenever,” he said. “I’ll put up posters in the dorm with my name and contact info so if anyone needs someone to talk to, they know who to call.” 

Cohen talked about her approach to supporting new students in Amen Hall and certain signs she looks for that may indicate a student is going through a tough time. 

“If they’re not going to their activities or not coming to meals, I’ll notice that,” she said. “With the new students, especially toward the beginning of the year, it’s our responsibility to look around and make sure everyone is OK.”

Student listeners are trained to involve dorm faculty should an issue extend beyond the scope of a peer-to-peer conversation. In addition to program sponsors and dorm faculty, student listeners are supported by campus safety and on-call counselors at the Lamont Health and Wellness Center, which is open 24/7.