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UGBC Passes Resolution to Implement Text Message Hotline

The Undergraduate Government of Boston College’s Student Assembly (SA) unanimously passed a resolution on Sunday night calling for BC to create the mental health hotline “Lean On Me,” which is currently used at four other universities. The resolution was sponsored by Reed Piercey, MCAS ’19, and co-sponsored by Aneeb Sheikh, MCAS ’20.

The resolution notes that there is only one official mental health resource for students at BC—University Counseling Services (UCS). UCS offers one-on-one counseling and psychotherapy for students, but appointments must be scheduled in advance, which often can be delayed due to high demand for UCS counselors.

Lean On Me is a 24/7 non-emergency peer-to-peer text hotline that was developed two years ago at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has since spread to the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Northeastern University.

The resolution calls for UGBC to establish an independent division called “Lean On Me” within Student Initiatives (SI), to serve as BC’s new chapter of Lean on Me (LOM BC). The proposed executive board leadership includes, at minimum, a chapter president, training coordinator, head of recruitment, and director of publicity and outreach.

According to Theresa Rager, vice president of SI and MCAS ’17, this structural set-up is not the norm for SI, which operates within committees. Piercey addressed this by proposing that LOM BC’s executive board would be a subsidiary of the mental health committee that exists in SI.

LOM BC would establish and maintain anonymous, supportive, non-emergency text-based hotline for BC’s community, according to the resolution. LOM BC would also work with existing mental health professionals within the BC community to create the necessary training materials and hotline practices for student volunteers who would staff the hotline.

Student volunteers would undergo four to five hours of in-person training with an actual mental health professional. Director of UCS Craig Burns has been very receptive to the proposal, Piercey said, and is willing to provide the professionals necessary for training.

The volunteers would also need to complete online training, which would be based on training used by other hotlines, such as Samaritan Hotline, a 24/7 distress hotline. Based on the recommendation of the MIT chapter that Piercey has been in contact with, BC would need 25 student volunteers. According to Piercey, MIT has an average of 10 to 20 users per week.

The training would end with an assessment featuring both multiple choice questions and sample responses. The test would be scored on the criteria of Lean On Me national, a board of MIT students overseeing Lean On Me’s expansion to universities throughout the United States and Canada.

The resolution also calls for UGBC to allocate a $600 annual budget for LOM BC for purchasing and maintaining a phone number for the hotline.

BC students would be able to text the hotline number whenever needed, and a text would be blasted to all volunteers. The first volunteer to respond would be given the conversation. If no volunteers answer, the conversation would need to be answered by a member of the executive board, which would essentially function as on-call texters.

Thus far, about six students have expressed interest in becoming involved with LOM BC. Sheikh, who will be the director of publicity and outreach, outlined where he would begin to look for student volunteers.

“I’ll reach out to the mental health committee and other mental health organizatiwons across campus—people who are already interested in working in mental health—-to start with,” Sheikh said. “Then I’ll reach out to the wider student population.”

Tt King, next year’s UGBC executive vice president and MCAS ’18, was present, and asked if the hotline would be private or confidential.

“Private meaning you do have to report to Title IX, if someone were to report a sexual assault, and confidential meaning you would not need to report to Title IX,” she said.

Piercey and Sheikh have not yet decided on how to approach Title IX regulations, but Piercey maintains that any emergency situation will be referred to BCPD, or someone who is professionally trained to address the emergency.

Featured Image by Jake Catania / Heights Staff

April 2, 2017