WisBusiness: Website allows students to ‘spill’ problems to peers

By Jennifer Barr

For WisBusiness.com

Have a problem you want to get off your chest? Students at the UW-Madison have developed an online organization that helps provide peer support to students across the country.

Founded in 2009, Spill Inc. provides a way for students to anonymously and conveniently seek advice from other students. Students vent, or “spill,” their feelings and receive advice in an e-mail within 24 hours.

“It is a way to bring empathy online,” explained vice president of business development Katie Kreuger. “You’re connected to other people who have struggled with a similar issue in the past, and getting feedback.”

Founded by Heidi Allstop, Spill Inc. aims to help students receive support on common stressors from someone “on the same level.” Spills are submitted online and then sent out to volunteer supporters who have received training on how to give empowering and empathetic support.

The website is careful to note that advice is purely from peers, and not from professionals or medical specialists.

“When you hear advice from someone who understands what you’re going through, you feel less alone,” Kreuger said. “Hopefully, people will seek out the resources that are recommended from their peers.”

The organization began as Allstop was going through a difficult period during her junior year of college.

“I just wanted to vent and hear from someone that had screwed up just as much, and weren’t afraid to give me a little unbiased tough love when necessary,” Allstop said.

With a presence on 20 different campuses, spanning from Wisconsin to California, Spill Inc. has trained more than 2,000 students to be volunteer responders. In addition to the literal meaning of “spill,” the acronym stands for Supporting Peers in Laidback Listening.

“It’s amazing how quickly this all spread,” Kreuger said. “We had no marketing, it was all just word of mouth.”

A national board now advises the organization, and each school’s program is run by a leadership team. Spill also partners with counseling centers in order to connect students to relevant local resources.

“It’s amazing to see how quickly the organization has grown,” said Krueger. “You can really see that you’re not alone, you just haven’t been connected yet.”

“I think the appeal is you can spill any time that you need,” she continued. “It’s here whenever you need it. You can get it off your chest quickly, and get advice back the next day.”

Spill Inc. was among the emerging companies selected to present at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposiumheld last month in Madison.

— Barr is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.