Speak2Swatties Launches Counseling Hotline

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Starting this semester, Speak2Swatties is offering a hotline for students to call 24/7.The hotline is an effort to continue peer mentoring for students, but also to develop a forum through which students can receive more immediate guidance.

Speak2Swatties, a student-facilitated peer mentoring service, provides an alternative to Swarthmore’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The newly established hotline links six counselors at a time to a Google voice account. All incoming calls are anonymous. Whoever picks up first takes the call. “I don’t know quite how it works, but it does and it’s kind of cool,” said Jessica Schleider ’12, former co-director of Speak2Swatties as well as one of the brains behind the new development.

According to Schleider, the hotline is meant to broaden the group’s accessibility to students who do not necessarily have the time to meet in-person, given packed schedules.

“It’s not therapy we’re doing. It’s support,” said Schleider, referring to Speak2Swatties as a whole. Once a week, the 15 peer mentors meet to discuss the do’s and don’ts of counseling. They conduct both active-listening exercises and mock sessions. “We do a lot of exercises that focus on body language; no crossing of limbs, an open stance suggests you are receptive,” said Schleider.

The counselors had to create a new set of guidelines for the hotline, where body language and other forms of such subtle, yet crucial, support are unavailable.

Last semester, both Schleider and co-coordinator Natalia Cote-Muñoz ’12 met with David Ramirez, the director of CAPS, to discuss tips for the most effective phone sessions.

“We had to deal with creating protocols. Having an instruction manual is crucial,” said Schleider. The group has developed a script for how to greet people, and make sure to emphasize at the beginning of the conversation that they are not trained professionals.

Speak2Swatties emphasizes confidentiality. When the group meets weekly to reflect on past sessions, they are prohibited from using student names. The hotline adds a whole new level of anonymity. Dean Braun, who worked with both Schleider and Cote-Muñoz in addressing the kinks of the hotline, was at first worried by such anonymity. Her concern was that if a student caller were in grave trouble, there would be no way of tracking him or her down. According to Schleider,  the protocol addresses ways to guide students even in dire situations.

Dina Zingaro ’13 received the first hotline call of the semester on a Friday afternoon in McCabe library. “Getting on the phone with this young man for 40 minutes made it all worth it. Just through talking, he put the pieces together and figured it all out. It felt like all the work we’ve [the counselors] been putting into it paid off,” said Zingaro.

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” said Zingaro, quoting French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil.

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