Tuesday 10th December 2013
Conor McGlynn looks at the Turner Prize which was held in Derry-Londonderry.
Find a lifeline in Niteline Editor, Elaine McCahill speaks with Niteline volunteer and head of their Public Faces campaign, Aaron Watson about his experience being both behind and in front of the phoneline.
Elaine McCahill Editor
ost students recognise the name. When trying to remember where they recognise it from, it usually brings up flashbacks of sitting on the loo in the arts block toilets and reading the replies to someone’s existential crisis scribbled out on one of their posters. However, Niteline is so much more than those little blue stickers that provide a platform for often hilarious bathroom reading. It is a free, anonymous support service for all students. An organisation built upon the ethos of being a listening, support and information service run for and by the students of TCD, DCU, NCAD, RCSI, UCD, NUIM and all of their affiliated colleges. It offers nightly support through their phone lines and Online Listening service through instant messaging are open from nine in the evening until half-two in the morning and no problem is too big or too small. Volunteers don’t have any information about your identity, where you’re calling from or what university you attend and as such, both listener and caller remain completely anonymous. It is also a non-directive service whereby volunteers won’t give you advice or direct you towards making a particular decision. However, while we may all have some level of knowledge about the service, it has been for the most part, been an organisation shrouded in a level of mystery.Who operates the service? Who are the people who volunteer to take calls? Will they understand my problems? Firstly, Niteline is funded by by the SU’s of the participating universities and as such it operates as a student service. With regard to those who volunteer with them, the main piece of information that Niteline wants to put across is that all the volunteers are students from the universities involved in the service. All volunteers remain anonymous but the point remains that they are your peers. Chances are your best friend could be a volunteer and you wouldn’t know due to their strict confidentiality policy. Thhe level of ambiguity surrounding the volunteers is an issue that Niteline has decided to address through their new Public Faces campaign. They want students to know that they are more personable than the posters around college, that students just like you are there to listen to your problems and most importantly, won’t be judgemental about them. In attempting to create a more open image of who their volunteers are, Niteline has launched its Public Faces campaign with Hannah Ryan and Aaron Watson as the faces of the campaign. Hannah and Aaron have both
Editorial T Elaine McCahill Editor
he news in recent weeks that student services, through the form of the Capitated bodies, are due to be cut again is another blow to the student experience that we’ve trying to cling onto since the recession began. We’ve been paying more across the board, whether it’s for fees, rent or transport and have consistently received less in return. College has consistently cut services throughout College but when do these cost-saving measures get to a point that they stert to seriously negatively affect the student experience? As detailed in our lead news story, the moratorium on hiring will lead to some departments losing up to a quarter of their staff when current faculty members retire. It has been ruled that these staff cannot be replaced with central money, instead they can only be replaced with private money, again putting inordinate amount of pressure on the alumni community and individual donors. As such the academic experience of students is going to suffer as modules are going to have to be dropped or classes made bigger in order to accommodate having less staff. In terms of the services offered to students, as well as extracurricular activities, the Capitations committee is absolutely central. A potential 10% cut across two years would be absolutely detrimental to the services provided by these bodies. For the GSU, this would mean the potential loss of their academic journal and their orientations week, which is held annually in September. For Trinity Publications, this cut would equal the total amount given to provisionally recognised publications every year, such as the Histories and Humanities Journal or the Social and Political Review. The loss suffered by Ducac would almost definitely mean the introduction of higher Sports Centre fees. As for the SU and the CSC is would almost definitely result
previously been volunteers and came forward in order to further the the development of the service and hopefully reach and inform thousands of students. Aaron Watson expands on the ideas behind the Public Faces Campaign and the more approachable image of Niteline they want to put across: “As we’re kind of hidden away...there’s a huge distance there and that’s not something that you want when you’re talking about really sensitive issues. You don’t want to feel that these people are completely far removed from you. What’s the point in having a peer to talk to if you feel like they’re a million miles away? We’re meant to be here so we’re closer to what’s going on with you and properly empathise with it.” The plan to go forward with the this campaign led from the idea of creating a closer relationship with students and also from the need to have actual volunteers, who operate the phones and online listening service to be present at Niteline stands during Mental Health Week or Freshers Week in order to really put a face to the service. They also want to offer more opportunities to those who want to volunteer but don’t necessarily want to work the phones. as Aaron explains, “there’s a lot of people who help out that aren’t on the phones, as not everyone has the skills to be a listener and others just don’t like it and we want to expand on that.” What is possibly the most daunting part about calling a service like Niteline is the idea that one of your friends or someone you know will answer the phone. Aaron says that ‘it is always a danger and we do have policies in place to deal with those situations but the main issue is that if you feel you know someone, you don’t have the same relationship on the phone then. As Niteline is anonymous, the caller needs to feel free to say whatever they want without worrying about seeing the volunteer the next day so we do want to avoid that happening. At the same time though, we cater to five universities, which is between 60 and 70 thousand students so the chances of actually recognising the volunteer is slim to none.” The lives of students in Ireland have become much more fraught and stressful in the past number of years with higher student contribution charges, grant cuts, less part-time jobs available and the prospect of unemployment after graduation. As such, one can’t help but be curious as to which issues are more prevalent among student who phone or chat to Niteline volunteers. While Aaron must remain within the realms
"The potential loss to the SU almost equals the salary of one full-time sabbatical officer. These are not minor cuts; they are ones that will seriously affect the quality of experience for present and future students."
in a dramatic loss in services. The potential loss to the SU almost equals the salary of one full-time sabbatical officer. These are not minor cuts; they are ones that will seriously affect the quality of experience for present and future students. One can’t but help feel that the powers-at-be are helplessly disconnected from the real experience of both students and staff. The university-as-a-business view that the Provost and his ministers holds is baffling to the average student. Yes, we understand that the college needs to make money in order to survive but it appears that he is blinkered to the everyday reality that exists and sees everything in monetary value rather in terms of its meaning to students. He appears to privilege the establishment of
"What is possibly the most daunting part about calling a service like Niteline is the idea that one of your friends or someone you know will answer the phone... As Niteline is anonymous, the caller needs to feel free to say whatever they want without worrying about seeing the volunteer the next day so we do want to avoid that happening. At the same time though, we cater to five universities, which is between 60 and 70 thousand students so the chances of actually recognising the volunteer is slim to none.”
a new ‘Trinity brand’ in order to attract fee-paying students from abroad, rather than focussing on the establishment of services for these potential students. Further to this, rumours have been abound this week that Mr. Prendergast is hoping to convert all of Front Square into accommodation by the end of his tenure. The removal of offices, departments and society rooms from Front Square once again perpetuates the vision of College as simply being a money-making scheme. By removing all society rooms etc from Front Square, it would remove the student experience of attending a historic university. One of the greatest joy and privileges of attending a university such as Trinity, is that if you work your way up through our little bubble, whether through societies or otherwise, rooms with magnificent views will await you. Where else in the world can one claim that the view from their college society room is one such as College Green? The history of our city-centre campus is central to our experience and one can only fear that if the Provost has his way, he’ll have all classes moved to a bunch of Stalin-esque building’s in Santry while he runs the campus as a tourist visiting centre. That may be a tad dramatic but the policies and outlook of all the higher-ups do not lend themselves to a well-rounded experience. Since I arrived at Trinity over four years ago, I have never felt as though there was such a disconnect between the students and those in the ivory-tower/No.1 Grafton St. This feeling of uneasiness is spreading among the staff too as the running of college has become more centralised and faculty members are no longer consulted on budgetary meetings and the like. This sense of frustration is building and that level of discontent is certainly not good for the efficiency that the Provost so clearly desires.
of his confidentiality agreement, he does accede that “every call is different and as such it’s hard to tie down which issues are more prevalent among students than others. For the most part though, I find that most people end up discussing at length why they are feeling stressed. Stress is always a key issue, whether it’s brought on by exams or troubles with friends or whatever may be happening in your life at that moment.” In terms of trying to break the stigma around mental health, Aaron believes that while there is some level of stigma attached, things have also changed hugely since he started as a volunteer five years ago. “When I’m doing publicity now, people are much more open to chatting and asking questions about Niteline whereas before people were a bit more wary of being labelled for even coming up and talking to us. Campaigns in recent years have also really pushed the message that it’s okay to talk, which is exactly what Niteline is for. We want to put forward the simple message that volunteers are there
for you and that the conversation goes no further. We also want to stress that volunteers there for you to talk whether it’s for a more friendly chat or a more formulaic, structured conversation, Niteline is really just there for whatever style the caller wants. We just let callers do whatever they can to make themselves feel better.” When asked if there is a protocol for recommending certain avenues of help, such as the college counselling service, Aaron says that their training is very similar to that of Peer Support, “which is mainly active listening training and role play training so that volunteers can deal with these types of charged calls but we don’t volunteer information, if we think someone is at a point where they need info or if they ask for it, we can offer them information but everything is really left in the hands of the caller.” As with many things, Public Faces is currently a trial scheme, but as Aaron expounds, “the main thing is that we want to humanise the service and get us out there so that we can actively partici-
n the anticipation of a new five year strategic plan, Trinity is in the process of assessing its priorities and its values. The ways the College operates are being evaluated and adjusted in anticipation of a five year Strategic Plan for 2014-2019. This puts the College and everyone associated with it, especially students and academics, in a very important position. At stake is not just the future of education in Trinity, but what Trinity itself will come to mean. Literally; one of focuses of the Strategic Plan is a rebranding effort which would include changing the name and logo, partly because apparently when trying to sell the idea of Trinity in Asia, one obstacle is the confusion over whether Trinity is a second level institution, due to the inclusion of the word ‘College’. What makes this such an important juncture though is not just what will eventually make up the plan, but the reaction to what the plan will or may be. The values reflected in the current iteration of Trinity’s plan for its next five years are decidedly market based, and leave little room for either students, or the seemingly naïve role of the University as a centre of learning. With the imposition of what has been called a ‘technobureaucratic’ business model, the idea that the primary role of the University is to serve the economy, fundamentally undermines the intellectual creativity and expression that allows for true innovation and, more importantly, shouldn’t need to justify itself. Of course Trinity doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and there are running costs, not least during a time of imposed austerity when the least directly measurable facilities are the most vulnerable. But it seems hypocritical to reflect on the necessity of the College to serve as an engine for growth by focusing creating 160 start-up companies over the next three years, when those would-be en-
Tommy Gavin Deputy Editor
pate and volunteer with events like Mental Health Week and by being more involved we do get more volunteers from the likes of the Welfare Committee. We want to show that we’re personable and that we’re not just this hidden shadow that works from 9pm.” If you would like to volunteer with Niteline, they take on volunteers at the start of the academic year. The application process simply involves filling out a form online and extensive training is given to groups of volunteers thereafter. The training committee gets in touch, then there’s an interview process and if chosen there is an eight week training session. If you ever feel the need to talk, Niteline is there on 1800 793793 and the online listening service is also available at niteline.ie.
"At stake is not just the future of education in Trinity, but what Trinity itself will come to mean."
trepreneurs have nowhere to live. Dublin is facing a very real housing crisis, and students are among the worst affected. According to Daft.ie, average rental prices have increased 7.5% since last year, and properties available to rent in August dropped to 2,394, from 4212 in August 2012, having been over 8,500 years ago. The fact is that the economy also does not operate in a vacuum. If the College wants to play the engagement game, it is duplicitous to do so on exclusively economic terms and should be advocating at the same time on a social level, particularly for students. However, it is clear from the student exclusion from any plans moving forward even within Trinity, that we are at best seen as commodities to be deployed, and at worst; resource sucking parasites.