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Lending an ear to students every night since 1978

By Ricarose Roque


The phrase “def-tuv-tuv-oper-oper” is a dominating presence as one walks down the infinite corridor. Upon close inspection, this cryptic message not only corresponds to numbers on the phones we use everyday, but it is also part of the pervasive campus publicity campaign advertising the student group Nightline.

Since 1978, this peer listening group has been offering both informational and counseling services to members of the MIT community who call x3-8800 every night. Informational calls include a wide range of requests for random tidbits of information, while counseling calls have included more serious and sensitive issues of such as rape and suicide.

“Nightline fills an important need for MIT students,” said a Nightline coordinator, who asked to remain anonymous. “The people who you talk to are also students who are going through the same things you are and may help you with situations and things better than family or an advisor.”

All calls received by Nightline are also kept anonymous and confidential.

“We don’t ask for any identifying information from the caller, nor do the listeners identify themselves,” said Kimberly G. McGlothin, the primary advisor for Nightline and an assistant dean of counseling and support services. “Knowing that you will remain anonymous and what you say remains confidential gives you that sense of safety.”

Before the Internet became a large part of students’ lives, Nightline used to receive an average of 40 to 50 informational calls a night. Today, Nightline typically receives about 10 informational calls and two or three counseling calls each night.

Nightline’s listening philosophy

Nightline encourages all students to take advantage of their listening services.

“We’re happy to take what people want to talk about,” the coordinator said. “We listen in a non-judgmental way in that we basically try to listen to them and make them feel better, and hopefully find a solution to their problem.”

With a philosophy focused on being good listeners, Nightline tries not to cross the fine line between being a counseling service and being an explicit advice-giving service.

“We try to be active listeners and not really try to give explicit advice, with the idea that you really have no idea what’s best for them, especially if you’ve only met in 20 minutes,” the coordinator said. “We try to stay away from giving advice, but depending on the call, the listener may sometimes share with them a similar personal experience.”

Listeners serve MIT community

Nightline staffers undergo intense training before becoming listeners to handle the wide range of issues that they may come across them when handling calls.

A career as a Nightline listener begins with a simple request to become a part of Nightline by calling the main number. Afterwards, the potential staffer will be interviewed, which can last for a few hours, where the person will tested on several call scenarios that might occur on a given night.

After passing the interview, the potential staffer will continue on to several months of further training.

“This period involves a lot of reading and practice calls with other fellow trainees,” the coordinator said. “It’s really important that staffers know what they’re doing.”

“Training continues even after this first intensive period, in the form of all-staffer meetings in which an external speaker will discuss an issue to help staffers take calls better,” the coordinator said.

Additionally, “every staffer on Nightline attends a weekly support group, the purpose of which is to provide support for staffers, as they can’t call Nightline anymore” with an expectation of anonymity, the coordinator said.

Alternative to traditional services

Nightline is a unique service that offers a different take than traditional mental health counseling services. Although it is completely student-run, MIT supports the service financially.

“Nightline offers a different sort of help,” McGlothin said. “You’re actually calling a peer who will probably have a better understanding of what you’re going through. It’s a very powerful resource that I don’t think you can duplicate.”

The anonymity of both caller and listener and the strict confidentiality of the call also adds further appeal to Nightline’s services.

“None of the calls are recorded,” the coordinator said. “Your story won’t go any further once the phone is hung up.”

With a staff consisting of both undergraduates and graduate students, with a guarantee of having one male and one female staffer on duty, Nightline can be reached on campus through x3-8800 or (617) 253-8800 from 7 p.m. through 7 a.m each night.

“I’m very optimistic about the future of Nightline,” McGlothin said. “I think the Institute really values its services a great deal and we’re committed to maintaining the service.”