The University has decided to start a new student help service called the Campus Resources Education Committee (CREC), rejecting proposals to bring back a telephone hotline similar to the now defunct Niteline. This new committee, which will not include a hotline, will focus on raising awareness of counseling services provided both inside and outside the University.
“One of the important roles Niteline served was in finding resources,” said Bill Michel, deputy dean of students in the University and assistant dean of the College. The new committee, intended to be a comprehensive referral service, will lead students to existing campus resources, such as Dean-on-Call, Sexual Assault Dean-on-Call, Resources for Violence Prevention, and Student Counseling and Resource Service.
The committee is not meant to replace Niteline, which was closed last winter.
“Last winter when we made a decision to close Niteline, we formed a committee of students, staff, and faculty to evaluate the need to have a support system like Niteline,” Michel said. This group, which included former members of Niteline, called itself the Peer Support Services Committee.
Although the Peer Support Services Committee’s meetings with administrators did not result in the return of Niteline, a core group of students from the disbanded group submitted a proposal for a new hotline system this past July.
In order to create their proposal the students studied hotlines provided by other universities. Harvard and Stanford were found to have particularly strong peer-to-peer hotlines, with Harvard additionally offering walk-in services and an advocacy branch. Columbia, Grinnell, UIC, MIT and Yale also have hotlines.
“Looking at other schools, it seemed like standard practice to have one,” says Armand Ryden, a graduate of the college and first-year student at the Pritzker School of Medicine, who was a member of the Peer Support Services Committee and helped assemble the proposal.
The proposal suggested an enhanced version of Niteline. “It wasn’t just a second Niteline. It was for a new organization to fill the role that Niteline had,” Ryden said. “It would have had new components like a drop-in service. It would have reflected changes in the university since Niteline was founded.”
The students’ main request was for a full-time staff member, since Niteline had no direct oversight apart from a faculty advisory board. They also hoped to make Niteline more accessible to the entire university instead of just for college students.
“My opinion is that grad students are more in need of it but more unaware of it,” Ryden said.
The plan was rejected for various reasons including the request for a full-time staff member, Michel said. “We couldn’t dedicate a person full-time to this. That’s nothing we could do right now,” he said.
Still, some students see a need for anonymous support.
“You’re not going to have someone calling the therapist on call because they broke up with their boyfriend. I think it would be nice to have someone to talk to,” Ryden said, explaining that a hotline is a resource intended mainly for people who are feeling lonely or isolated but not needing professional services.
Administrators have not seen a strong demand from students to restore a hotline service. “There has not been significant concern from students,” Michel said about Niteline’s closing.
Still, because of the anonymity of Niteline’s volunteers and callers, it is hard to determine what kind of void its closing has left on students. Students who frequented Niteline’s services may not have been the most vocal students on campus, and volunteers, even now careful to maintain the anonymity that characterized Niteline, are wary of speaking out.
Students looking for anonymous advice are not the only ones affected by the absence of a hotline. Additionally, volunteers interested in helping peers in a listening program are left without an outlet for their abilities. Former members of Niteline insist that the training they received was very valuable and hard to replace.
Michel said he hopes to help volunteers “identify city-wide opportunities and form a campus research and education committee.”
Students who make up CREC either have peer-to-peer counseling experience or are involved with Student Government. According to Ryden, who is also a member of CREC, the committee’s main challenge of the committee will be to “find out how to serve the entire university community.” The CREC, which will have its first meeting Wednesday, will be headed by Kyle Lakin, student ombudsperson and a fourth-year in the College and Sheila Yardbrough, assistant dean of students in the University.