On a Friday night, after other students have gone out, some are sitting by a phone — ready to hear your calls.
The Reach-A-Peer Helpline — an anonymous, student-led hotline — offers “crisis management, information about resources on campus and, above all, a listening ear” to its student callers, said Engineering junior Elissa Wolf, the group’s president.
The line is open every night from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. with highly trained staffers ready to answer the phone. Because the organization is student-run, all callers have the chance to speak directly with their peers, which many find more comfortable than speaking with professional adults. In addition, the caller and staffer remain anonymous during calls, creating an atmosphere completely free of judgment.
There are many reasons why people call Reach-A-Peer, Wolf explained. While some callers have serious issues that they wish to confront, others simply want a person to whom they can vent.
“Many of our callers feel they cannot talk to anyone about such sensitive issues, and are ashamed or afraid to utilize resources like [Counseling and Psychological Services]. RAPline hopes to be an easier, more approachable first step.”
College junior Rebecca Fleischman, vice president of marketing for Reach-A-Peer, agreed.
“CAPS is a great resource for students, but there is a stigma at Penn about going to CAPS and getting helped because a lot of people think they will be judged or will be seen going in.”
While CAPS often requires an appointment, Wolf stressed the immediate availability of Reach-A-Peer. “It is not something you have to plan ahead or commit to. You can just call in and there will always be someone to talk to,” she said.
Along with its conventional helpline, Reach-A-Peer also provides an online submission option for students, where they can submit questions or concerns anonymously and receive a response within three days.
“Different people use [our resources] differently,” Fleischman said. “Sometimes it’s easier to write a letter when you know that no one can see an email address or hear your voice on the phone.”
And while RAPline staffers are Penn students, they are definitely not amateurs.
“We are very trained,” Wolf said. “It’s not just random students put together in a room with a phone. We are prepared to handle any situation that could come up.”
All members are required to complete a rigorous, 40-hour training session over the semester, concluding with a mandatory exam that they must pass before working the phones. Through these sessions and practice calls, staffers learn how to ask probing questions and solve delicate problems, adapting to a variety of different situations.
“The semester-long training process focuses on two main things: firstly, being a good listener, and secondly, learning about campus resources,” College freshman Rebecca Nussbaum, director of training and former Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, said in an email.
RAPline staffers meet with representatives from CAPS, the LGBT Center, Penn Women’s Center and the Weingarten Learning Resources Center to familiarize themselves with their resources, “so we can give recommendations that tailor specifically to the caller’s need.”
“Penn has an amazing number of resources, but there [are] a lot of them … We want to provide a start to a pathway to finding what you need,” said College freshman Jibreel Powell, who will be a new trainer next year.
Despite Powell’s praise for the service, he admitted that it also faces limitations. “Because RAPline is anonymous, it is harder to get the word out sometimes,” he said. “One of the things we want to be able to do is to reach more people, because a lot of people simply don’t know about it and don’t have access to it.”
In fact, since the program’s founding in the early 1990s, RAPline has struggled with finding a place on campus. “Because only the board members are public, getting our name out there is the hardest task,” Wolf said.
RAPline has, however, taken recent steps to increase its presence.
“We are always looking for new members,” Fleischman said. “We target freshmen and are now considering targeting specific majors who might be interested in using Reach-A-Peer to think about their careers in the future.”
She added that the lessons she has learned from RAPline are pertinent everyday. “I now appreciate more the ability to help others, and it has made me a better friend.”
As for getting new potential callers, the line is always open.
“There is nothing to lose in calling,” Fleischman said.Comments powered by Disqus
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