Our Campus: Kyra Borland-Walker ensures students can speak easy

The AMS strives to support students in various ways: hosting events, making executive decisions and offering various student services. Speakeasy is the AMS’ most storied student service, and Kyra Borland-Walker is currently at the helm of the ship.

Although Borland-Walker grew up in Vancouver, she attended high school in the Netherlands and did not know many faces coming into UBC.

“I kind of fell into Speakeasy. My first day as a first year, I was late for Imagine Day and I only went to the main event. Honestly, I was feeling a little discouraged about being on campus, making friends and finding something that felt like home for me. I was looking for community.”

At the Imagine Day main event, Borland-Walker came into contact with Speakeasy and decided on the fly to apply for a position there.

“I read a little about what it was, and immediately I was thinking to myself ‘Wow that is what to do; I want to support people and be part of a community that helps other people feel supported.’”

In the past, Borland-Walker had personally experienced some mental health issues and started a gay-straight alliance at her high school. Therefore, she felt a personal connection to Speakeasy.

Each year at UBC, Borland-Walker’s involvement with Speakeasy increased further. In her second year, Borland-Walker applied to be a team leader, in her third to be the assistant coordinator and in her fourth to be the coordinator: she was hired all three times.

Through her involvement in Speakeasy, Borland-Walker is contributing to an AMS tradition.

“We were started by a group of students who were concerned with campus loneliness. They wanted to give students a place to come and feel connected to other students.”

Speakeasy has served students for over 45 years. “We were started in 1970, and as such we are the oldest student service.” Throughout its history, it has taken on several different forms, but has never strayed from its mission to provide peer support. “We’ve offered a lot of services throughout the years: drop-in peer support, peer-support over the phone, tutoring referrals, club space. Our mandate has always been to further the well-being of students.”

In its current form, Speakeasy provides peer support for students facing a wide variety of challenges. “To describe it in a nutshell, you could call [Speakeasy] free, confidential, one-on-one drop-in peer support with a trained volunteer.”

However, Borland-Walker stresses the importance of recognizing that Speakeasy volunteers, despite being carefully chosen and well-trained, are not professional counsellors. “I think one of the important distinctions to make note of is that we are not professionals. We don’t pretend to be professionals, and as such we have unique advantages and limitations.”

Volunteers at Speakeasy are peers who can relate to students on a personal level that perhaps professionals cannot, but are not trained to treat physiological or psychological disorders. “We are short-term service, and we only see students one time [per issue]. Our ultimate goal is to refer out so that students can continue to deal with their stress long-term.”

If you feel the need to speak to a peer support counsellor, making use of the Speakeasy service is straightforward and easy.

According to Borland-Walker, “There are two ways of accessing our service. The primary way is to approach our desk, which is in the north concourse of the SUB.” The second way is a more discreet approach that students are encouraged to take if they feel uncomfortable approaching the front desk.

“Behind that wall to the left of the desk there is a doorbell.” Speakeasy volunteers are listening for the sound of the bell, and will come to assist you. All sessions take place in a private room.

Borland-Walker encourages those interested to apply and volunteer at Speakeasy. “If you’re passionate about Speakeasy, you’re the right person to volunteer here. You may not feel like you have the base skills, but we have really intensive training.” With empathy and a willingness to learn, Borland-Walker believes any passionate volunteer can become an effective peer support counsellor.

A spot is not guaranteed, as “we typically have about four times as many applicants than we have positions, but at least apply and get your name in there as we have a lot more positions opening up next year [for the opening of the new SUB].”

Speakeasy helps those in need, and gives students like Borland-Walker a home on campus. As such, it definitely is an integral part of the UBC community.