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image: Campus NewsWho you gonna call?
Niteline, 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.

The 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.

"We 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.

What 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."

With 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."

The 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.

Since 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.

Meanwhile, 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."
-S.A.S.



 

 


  JUNE 2002

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