Last Thursday at 7 p.m., a line of over 100 students spanned the hallway of upstairs Paresky Center. Students giggled and chatted with friends while waiting their turn to enter the Peer Health room. Those at the front of the line peeked inside through the glass door, hoping to catch a glimpse of a moving ball of fur. I, too, was drawn to the Peer Health room by the enticing opportunity to play with the two kittens, Sushi and Wasabi. Only five students could enter the room at a time so as not to overwhelm them. After all, as Johanna Wassermann ’18, the organizer of the event, explained to us, Peer Health is an organization that supports human mental health, but must also support kitten mental health too!
The line was well worth it. As I stepped into the room, I entered a magical land of giggles, kittens and friendship. The Peer Health room is stocked with free candy, coloring books, tissues, feminine products and tea bags. After asking myself whether I was still on campus or if this was a dream, I sat down to play with the kittens. Sushi and Wasabi are adorable, tiny kittens owned and kindly lent for the evening by Professor of Biology Luana Maroja. Sushi, who has a white, grey and orange coat, was shy but seemed adventurous, as she climbed on top of a chair and then gracefully leaped down. This was particularly impressive, given that cats use their long tail for balance, but Sushi has a stub tail! Wasabi, who has a grey coat, was playful and seemed sociable and intelligent. Something about the kittens’ slow, graceful movements and soft fur made us forget all our troubles.
I talked to Wassermann, a senior studying English and environmental studies, about her role in Peer Health. She is passionate about supporting her peers and providing an emotional outlet for them – via puppies and kittens, of course. I described to Wassermann the comforting and supportive vibes that the room gave off, and she told me that this is exactly the effect that Peer Health strives to give students. Whether playing with a therapy puppy (which comes every Tuesday at 7 p.m.) or kittens, speaking with a trained student listener or simply swinging by for some candy, the Peer Health room operates as a safe space and a judgement-free zone.
Wassermann described her inspriation for the event. “As the Canine Coordinator … I ran the therapy puppy shift every week, but we noticed that some students get anxious or nervous around dogs, and that these same students were requesting we bring cats,” she said. In order to adress this section of the student body, she reached out to Maroja.
“I had heard that professor Maroja had two new kittens, and all it took was a quick email to get her on board. … Then it just took a few politely persuasive emails to the administration to get approval for the event,” Wassermann said.
Wassermann reported that over 110 people visited to come play with the kittens (that’s 65 people per kitten, for those of you keeping track). She described the feeling of providing a service to so many people as extremely gratifying.
“For the first time in Peer Health’s history, we actually had a line outside the office. It was incredibly validating to see that happen. I’ve been involved with this club since freshman year, and we used to consider a good shift one where a single person stopped by to buy condoms. Look how far we’ve come!”
These resources are not just for those who are stressed or struggling; everyone needs a break once in a while, especially busy Williams students. Peer Health, Paresky 212, is open 7-10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, so stop in and treat yourself if you have a minute to spare!