you gonna call?
the University's student-run late-night information, referral,
listening, and crisis-intervention telephone service, closed at
the end of winter quarter. Created in 1978 to fill a gap in the
University's overall response to students' counseling needs, over
the years Niteline has trained hundreds of student volunteers
to help their peers.
need for student-to-student services, however, has declined
in recent years, says Margo Marshak, vice president and dean
of students, as professional counseling services have expanded,
both at Chicago and universities nationwide. Meanwhile, students
on present-day college campuses are more used to and expect
professional advice and counseling.
are very grateful to the students who took the time to support
their fellow students," says Marshak. But the expanded
presence of professional counselors-who have as much as several
thousand hours of training and experience, she adds-means students
no longer must assume the responsibility of being a primary
resource for peers in crisis.
set the service apart, argue this year's Niteline volunteers-who
ask to remain anonymous in consideration of past callers-was
its ability to cultivate trust among students who view the administration
and "official" services like Big Brother. Such students
think the administration generally works in their favor but
fear "if I mess up-or if they know I am having a problem,"
a volunteer explains, "it will be part of my record for
the rest of my life."
these callers, "we were able to be both an alternative
and a source of information to discount rumors and groundless
fears," notes the volunteer. A good example are the frequent
alcohol-related calls. "Someone would call because his
or her roommate or friend was passed out and underage. We assured
these callers that the student's health, not behavior, was the
first priority for any professional staff involved, so they
didn't need to feel they were 'ratting out' a friend by making
sure he or she had medical attention."
volunteers note they were not consulted on the closure decision,
but they quickly rallied to alert the campus, setting up a "Who
you gonna call?" station in the Reynolds Club.
Niteline closed, its phone number has listed available professional
services. Students continue to have 24-hour access to professional
help from the Dean of Students Office's Dean-on-Call and Sexual
Assault Dean-on-Call, the Student Counseling and Resource Service
Therapist-on-Call, the Primary Care Group Physician-on-Call,
and the University Police Department. Information about accessing
these and other non-University resources was distributed this
spring in student newspapers and by student-services staff.
A Web site, emergencysupportresources.uchicago.edu,
also lists contact information.
Marshak has formed a committee of faculty, students, and staff
to consider how the U of C circulates information about existing
services and to review the role peer counseling might play within
a range of support services. "While we will no longer have
a student-run phone line," she says, "we will work
even harder to be sure that all our students know about the
broad range of professional services we offer, and to make sure
those services continue providing excellent care."