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People of Queen's: Helping students find their strength

People of Queen's is a regular feature of the Gazette, profiling a Queen's staff member whose dedication and passion has enriched the various offices they have worked in and the community.

[Hagar Prah]
From her office in the JDUC, Outreach Counsellor and Student Life Advisor Hagar Akua Prah offers one-on-one counselling and advising sessions to Queen’s students. (University Communications)

Partway through talking about her work as Outreach Counsellor and Student Life Advisor, Hagar Akua Prah pauses to pick up a framed picture. Inside the frame is a word cloud, an image made up of words and phrases clustered together that she received as a gift last year from the volunteers of the Alma Mater Society’s Peer Support Centre. In large script, scattered around the image are phrases like “intelligent,” “soothing”, “talented” and “the Peer Support Centre’s best resource.”

“As an educator, it’s really nice to get a response like this,” says Ms. Prah with a grin.

Before taking on her current role in the Division of Student Affairs in 2009, Ms. Prah was long active with members of the university community. A trained social worker, she previously held a position at the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, a role that had her managing a group of volunteers largely made up of Queen’s students.

“I love working with students, they have energy, openness and want to take risks. I was always impressed with the level of commitment Queen’s students demonstrated in the area of violence prevention,” Ms. Prah says. “They brought not only their perspectives and knowledge, but also their passion and skill to the movement.”  

After collaborating for years with students from disciplines as diverse as medicine, law and gender studies, she says it was a natural fit to move to Queen’s and work more directly with the student body.

Along with the training she does for groups like the Peer Support Centre and residence dons, Ms. Prah devotes much of her time to one-on-one counselling and advising sessions for students.

“I’m here so that people feel they have someone they can talk with when dealing with something challenging, whether it’s impacting their mental health or their sense of wellbeing,” she says. “People want to feel validated about their thoughts and decisions.”

In her role at Queen’s, Ms. Prah specializes in sexual assault counselling and advocacy and is committed to providing a safe space where students can share how they think and feel.

“One of the greatest things someone can do is walk through my door,” she says. “It’s a brave thing to step forward and decide to try to work something out and get help doing it.”

Beyond a passion for helping people through a difficult time, it’s seeing people help themselves that inspires Ms. Prah’s work.

“I have the privilege of witnessing the process of someone going from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’ and ‘I did,’” she says. “I get to see them at the beginning of their journey — at their most vulnerable — and then I get to see them find their strength. One of the best parts of my job is seeing people surprise themselves.”