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Nightline Listens, Looks for Listeners

By Orli G. Bahcall and Yaron Koren
Staff Reporters

Nightline, MIT's confidential all-night student support service, recently completed the first of two rounds of interviews for volunteer listeners.

"We are not looking for people with past experience" but instead, individuals who "listen supportively and are non-judgmental" and show that they are "empathetic, caring and willing to learn about providing support to fellow students," said one of this year's Nightline coordinators, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The coordinator did not wish to be identified personally, even with a false name, in order to preserve the confidentially associated with Nightline.

Four week training program

After interviews are completed, the accepted applicants participate in a four week training program, the coordinator said. Applicants spend the first day learning how Nightline operates.

After the introduction, the program continues with four weekly meetings during which trainees participate in role playing of situations they may encounter, the coordinator said.

Following the training period, new staffers begin working the phones immediately, the Nightline coordinator said. The average staff member works at Nightline for a year or two, she said.

There are currently 26 Nightline staff members, including both undergraduate and graduate students, the Nightline coordinator said. Every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. two staff members work the Nightline phones. Each staff member works about two nights a month, she said.

Available for any need

Nightline aims to be available no matter what the need, whether to listen or to refer callers to other resources in the MITand Boston communities, the Nightline coordinator said.

"Nightline is about students being there for other students -- providing a supportive, friendly, and non-judgmental ear to which people can turn in times of need or stress." another staffer said, also under condition of anonymity.

All calls taken by Nightline are completely confidential, and most staff members do not reveal their identities, as well, said the Nightline coordinator.

In the near future, Nightline hopes to have an anonymous drop-off box in the Infinite Corridor, so that anyone can leave information or feedback for the service, the coordinator said.

Nightline gets variety of calls

Nightline mainly receives two types of calls, those that request information and those that require more interaction with a staff member.

Usually, Nightline receives approximately 40 to 60 information requests a night, the coordinator said. Most of these calls are for straightforward information, anything from when the next Safe Ride van arrives to "random trivia" to the value of a constant needed for a problem set, she said.

To answer these information calls, the staff has a number of resources, including encyclopedias, maps, textbooks, almanacs, random trivia books, and bulletin boards containing random information with items like phone numbers, calendars, and MIT publications, the coordinator said.

"Information about serious topics," such as where one can get HIV testing or whether parents will receive notice of a student going to the Medical Center for pregnancy testing, comprise the other half of the information questions, the Nightline coordinator said.

(HIV testing can be done at the Crittenton Hastings House, at 782-7600 ext. 50, among others. While parents do not receive notice of pregnancy tests from the Medical Center, anything paid for with parents' insurance may be reported to them.)

The main focus of Nightline, the coordinator said, is the listening calls. These calls involve "anything people want to talk about -- relationships, classes, whatever happens to be on their mind." Nightline usually receives between one and five listening calls a night, she said.

Nightline also "receives calls on topics such as suicide and domestic violence" she said. "Really serious calls are not that common" but several are received each month, she said.

"The reason a lot of staffers staff Nightline is because it is a very tangible way to help," the coordinator said. "It is not always easy, but it is very rewarding. You are definitely doing something helpful for other people."