By Kristen Mitchell
George Washington University students looking for support can now turn to an anonymous peer hotline for help. The Student Association initiative, GW Listens, is run by students to provide immediate assistance for classmates in need.
Participants in the program, first proposed by the former Student Association President Nick Gumas in spring 2014, began training last spring. The hotline launched earlier this month with 12 listeners who have been trained on how to deal with challenging situations. They work out of a temporary location in the Marvin Center.
Students run GW Listens, but the Colonial Health Center has been instrumental in providing training for student listeners on topics including active listening, interpersonal communication, risk assessment and multicultural competence. Prior to the launch, listeners completed an academic course and weekly training sessions that included practice calls.
“The program aims to provide another resource for students based on peer support,” said Kimberly Wong, a licensed psychologist and training coordinator at the Colonial Health Center who oversees GW Listens training. “For a lot of students, speaking to a peer is a lot more comfortable and that could potentially be a first step to speaking with a professional counselor down the road.”
Students can connect with GW Listens volunteers at 202-242-TALK (8255). Two volunteers operate the hotline from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Tuesday.
Anastasiya Parvankin, a sophomore majoring in political science and director of GW Listens, said the listeners range in gender, age and fields of study. Their aim is to connect with students as peers.
“Going to professional counseling can be really hard to do, so this is kind of a good first step to having someone be more comfortable with it, especially because it is anonymous, and it is free,” she said. “They’re talking to students who are probably going through the exact same kinds of things.”
Ms. Parvankin, also a Student Association cabinet member, said GW Listens is designed to provide anonymity for callers and listeners.
Students training to be listeners are required to take the 16-week, three-credit psychology course “Helping Skills for Undergraduates.” About seven listeners are enrolled in this semester’s training class.
The listeners are able to talk to the callers and can refer them to services like Mental Health Services, Medical Services, the Sexual Assault Response and Consultation Team or Career Services, depending on the topics of their conversation. If necessary, callers can be immediately connected to Mental Health Services, which is also available directly at 202-994-5300, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Any member of the university community who is concerned about the wellbeing of a student can also submit a report through the CARE Network.
The call line was initially slated to open at the start of the academic year, but to ensure its success, the decision was made to launch this semester, said Amber Cargill, assistant director of training and education and a licensed psychologist in the Colonial Health Center. The initiative was first announced by GW President Steven Knapp at the opening of the Colonial Health Center in January 2015.
GW Listens will relocate to a permanent location in the fall, and Ms. Parvankin said she hopes to increase the number of phone lines and eventually launch an online chat feature.
“I feel like for a lot of people it’s easier to express their feelings by typing it out,” she said.
Ms. Parvankin, who is also a resident adviser, is encouraging her peers to spread the word about the new hotline through social media and in the residence halls. She hopes that over time the volume of callers and the number of listeners increases.
“The more volunteers we have,” she said, “the more people we’ll be able to help.”