It’s always nice to have someone to talk to, especially during these stressful college years. One student org that offers such services is The Listening Center (TLC), which began as a peer-listening organization that had a member on call 24/7. Anyone could call in anonymously and discuss their problems or stressors with a listener regardless of their issue. Both TLC and CARES, an org that deals mostly with interpersonal violence, conducted their services over the phone. Ever since Spring 2016 however, when TLC and CARES, were taken off call, TLC has struggled to remain an anonymous peer-listening support resource for students. Co-President Sarah Dolan ’18 [Full disclosure: Sarah Dolan is a Contributing Editor at The Miscellany News], who joined TLC her sophomore year, discussed the transition period. “We spent most of last year brainstorming and figuring out where we fit into the campus community and how to best help students,” she explained.
Now TLC works closely with Director of Health Education Renee Pabst to ensure that the org can continue to operate through a website called 7 Cups of Tea.
7 Cups provides an online chat site where students can log in and anonymously chat with a member of TLC. Every day between the hours of 8 p.m. and midnight, there is a listener available to chat with students and support them. The group noticed that in previous years most calls came in around those times, so to avoid overworking the TLC listeners, they decided to have someone on call only during those more active hours instead of 24/7. However, sometimes TLC has extended hours due to the demand of the campus climate.
TLC also hosts open hours in CC 237 on Mondays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for those who prefer to talk to a trained listener in person.
At the beginning of the fall semester, students can apply to be listeners, a position that requires thorough training.The Executive Board goes through the applications and ac- accepts certain students to train. This year TLC could only accept 10 people because of limited training resources and number of shifts. According to treasurer Sarah Altman-Ezzard ’19, the various trainings cover topics such as academic stress, grief and loneliness and relationship problems.
Dolan added that all listeners get QPR (Question. Persuade. Refer.) training, a suicide prevention model used to train House Teams and administrators. The trainees learn about how to be an active listener among other trainings conducted by various campus administrators. For example, the listeners learn about different resources on campus so they can direct students to the appropriate office as needed.
In addition, new TLC members practice scenarios and discussions with other members of the org; these exercises prepare them for possible chat topics based on previous experiences so they know how to handle different situations. Their training is as all-inclusive as possible, usually spanning the entire first semester, and the new listeners enter the subsequent spring semester prepared to fully serve students. However, part of their training had to be adapted to the new media form after being taken off-call.
It was inconvenient for TLC to adjust to some drawbacks of conducting their service online rather than via phone. For example, when they were on-call listeners could transfer someone to CRC immediately if need be; now emergency help is more indirect. However, there are benefits of the chat service as well. Altman-Ezzard explained that some people might find it easier to get support via a chat service rather than through a phone.
Because the chat is online and conducted through the 7 Cups service, TLC still provides an anonymous service. As Co-President Olivia Hodel ’19 stated, “[Anonymity] is really important, too, because Vassar is such a small campus […] and to be able to talk to someone that’s a peer […] is really important.” For example, if someone is describing their situation via chat and the listener thinks they might know who it is, there is someone on backup who can take over and retain the anonymity of the student.
TLC prioritizes students’ comfort. Hodel stated, “[TLC is] an organization of very dedicated Vassar students who are motivated to support other Vassar students in any way they can, specifically through just listening and lending an ear rather than trying to fix a problem.”
She stressed that TLC does not make giving advice its priority, explaining, “We’re not really here to give advice, we’re here to listen to people and let them come up with their own action plans.” TLC asks people what the best scenario would be, or simply lets them talk. Even just putting the situation into words can help the students understand what happened and make it easier to form a response or figure out how to move forward. Altman-Ezzard agreed, adding, “A lot of the time a person may know about resources and they’re not really there to get advice, they just want to talk, so we stress listening.”
Not only is the org beneficial for students, it is also rewarding for listeners. Dolan has loved her time working with TLC, stating, “It’s been a super valuable experience because I think I’ve learned a lot of listening skills that […] I think are applicable to my personal life, and I’ve become really knowledgeable about resources on campus.”
TLC members gather together with the common goal of supporting the Vassar community, a goal that connects amazing people dedicated to helping others. As Altman-Ezzard concluded,“All the people are so supportive and some of the most genuinely loving people I have met. TLC is a group with great people to be around.”