Founded in 2011 but operating for the first time on April 25, NU Listens is a campus peer-listening service available to all students who need someone to talk to. Their lines, which can be reached at 847-467-5102, are open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. NBN sat down with Weinberg senior and NU Listens Co-Director Leah Grodinsky to ask about being an active listener.
What are you listening to?
NU Listens started with the intention of supplementing the already existing mental health services. We wanted to start providing free alternatives to students, especially during the weekend. NU Listens is a listening service in that it’s not counseling, so we’re willing to listen to whatever students want to talk about. That can be over any range of topics. The main priority is to give people a space to vent and work things out on their own. We’re just trying to give them a nonjudgmental space to work things out and come to a temporary or long-term solution. We give them referrals if they need to seek further assistance.
How can you help somebody if you’re not physically beside them?
We’re definitely limited by not having those nonverbal ques. It’s a lot harder to assess the situation if you don’t have that person in front of you. You can get a lot of information from tone of voice, and a lot of what we do is give the person a couple minutes to talk about whatever they wanted to call about in the first place. Then at the end of the call, a listener might refer them to existing resources on campus. The benefit of the support line is that it offers immediate assistance. If someone’s in a crisis mode, they can call in and use those minutes to calm down and think about an option. A lot of people, if they’re panicking, don’t know what their options are, so we’re here to serve as a resource for that and make sure people are doing the safe thing.
Why was the University originally resistant to the idea of NU Listens?
Changing anything on this campus at an administrative level takes a lot of time. Added to that, given that it’s a mental health-oriented program, there’s always the risk of someone doing harm to themselves or another person, and what we would do in that situation. The administration a lot of times was emphasizing that CAPS already exists, and students should utilize that. They have trained professionals there and students are untrained to handle some of the more dangerous or risky situations.
How do you make sure students are trained to handle these situations?
We’re a liaison between the student body and more professional services. Students know we’re not therapists, and they might ask for advice because we’re programmed to ask for advice from people. But ultimately we’re not there to give them the answers – we’re there to provide them with options. We came up with a protocol where if a really dangerous situation were to come up, we have people on call. CAPS has a person on call at all times who would be able to handle the situation further is something were to come up.
Why do we need NU Listens?
We don’t really talk about mental health as a campus. And it’s something that more people struggle with during certain times of the year, like during finals because they’re really focused on getting the best grade or making sure they’re studying enough. We don’t always feel like we have an outlet to turn to if things were to become more serious. Given that CAPS is kind of stigmatized or that not everyone is comfortable with seeking professional help, sometimes just talking to a peer is all someone needs. It’s not a replacement for CAPS, but it’s another source if people just need someone to talk to, because unfortunately that’s not something we always have access to on a day-to-day basis. We’re trying to change the climate of mental health on campus and foster more discourse on it, and encourage people to reach out when they need to get help.This interview has been edited for length and clarity.