SOME things are not easy to speak about with friends or flatmates you’ve just met. Moving to a new city and settling into university life might not be what you were expecting and you can sometimes wind up feeling lost and lonely. Luckily, Nightline exists. Nightline is a free service which provides a space for students to call and share whatever concern imaginable to an anonymous volunteer who will listen without judgement.
Nightline was established around 1998 and, amazingly, is still running because of volunteers. People who join the Nightline team commit to one shift every fortnight and, as the service is a cooperation between the University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University, there is almost never a problem to fill the shifts. ‘We have two people on the shift,’ says USSA Vice President of Diversity and Advocacy, Dominique Ucbas, who has been involved in training Nightline staff, ‘but there is actually just one phone line so that one can speak and the other listen In cases of suicide calls or other serious matters we don’t want anyone to be alone speaking to the person calling.’
Students can call Nightline for anything without giving information about their name, age or gender. ‘All the conversations are confidential,’ Ucbas explains, ‘and the volunteers will not judge the people who call in any way … People are generally calling because they don’t enjoy university and feel homesick. It’s not always easy to get friends in the beginning. Some people also call for information about, for instance, gay bars in the city centre, or if they have problems with their friends or partners.’
It is important to bear in mind that Nightline is a listening service, so the volunteers will not give any advice or suggestions on how to solve whatever issue students call about. The point is to ask leading questions so that they can come to a solution on their own. The volunteers are not supposed to get personally involved in any way, and do not give out any information about themselves.
All volunteers working for Nightline have been through training and preparation conducted by ASK advisers. This includes call practice and role-play between trainers and student. ‘The training is focused on listening techniques and listening skills,’ says ASK student adviser, Nicola Summers. ‘Also, they learn how to feel comfortable about speaking to the people calling.’
Nightline can have anywhere from two to twenty calls during one night. There is no rule for how long a conversation can be. ‘People tend to go around in circles after a while,’ says Ucbas, ‘and at that point the volunteers can try to end the conversation in a decent way.’
As not everyone is comfortable with speaking to someone on the phone about their problems, last year Nightline expanded its service so that it now includes an online chatting service as well. For those preferring to speak to someone in person, the ASK office is open every day and is run by staff from Strathclyde.
‘Many people just come in for a chat,’ Summers says. ‘We can listen, and we can assist in finding people that can help with their problem if we can’t.’
It is comforting to know that, in the midst of the bustle and busyness of university life, there are people only a phonecall (or a flight of stairs) away, who are there; people who are happy just to listen.
By Camilla Hellum
(Published December 2012)