Sometimes Barnard SGA meetings are pretty pointless—nothing gets learned, and nothing gets done. Last night was surprisingly different: Barnard Bureau Chief Dassi Karp reports on the good work of Nightline and Well Woman, as well as an exciting endowment proposal which hopes to increase the number of vegetables on campus.
Lena Denbro BC’19 and Albert Kohn GS/JTS’18, co-directors of Nightline, spoke about what Nightline’s purpose and how SGA can help. Nightline is an anonymous peer listening students run by Columbia undergraduates for Columbia undergraduates. They accept calls about any topic, every night. Listeners come from all four schools, and undergo a semester-long training and certification process. Denbro and Kohn are the only public figures of Nightline, and serve as the public ambassadors for their anonymous staff. Since they are public, they no longer answer the phones. Part of their presentation included addressing some common misconceptions about Nightline, one being that Nightline is mainly a type of suicide hotline. While listeners are prepared and have taken calls from suicidal students, these are only a small fraction of the calls they take. Usually, the co-directors explained, calls are about more everyday stressors, such as schoolwork and relationships. “There is truly no problem too big or too small,” Denbro emphasized. Additionally, Nightline Listeners do more than just listen. Kohn explained that callers can expect to have a genuine conversation. He acknowledged that “it is hard to pick up the phone, especially in those moments you’re feeling weak and unstable,” but encouraged students to do so anyway. Callers do not have to talk about anything they don’t want to, and can end the call whenever they want, “but sometimes just talking it out can really make a big difference.”
The Nightline directors asked SGA for help advertising. Unlike other clubs, most Nightline members cannot spread awareness of the service they offer, because they are anonymous. They also wanted support in becoming a more normalized resource on campus and getting included on lists of resources that are sent out by the administration. “I think that most students aren’t ready to call the Clinician On-Call,” said Kohn, adding that Nightline may be a good option for students, especially in difficult times, who don’t think they are in crisis but still need to talk. Denbro and Kohn also spoke about how there are all sorts of resources available for students who need them, both on-campus and off, and that sometimes students just need guidance about how to find those resources and make them work for them. They also had what I found to be a really insightful warning for those who have criticisms of health services on campus. Students should work to make these services better, they said, but must be careful to criticize in ways that are productive and does not discourage students from using these resources. Sure, people have problems with Furman—but people should still go. We have to be careful that in our efforts to make these services better, we don’t dissuade people from getting the help they need.
SGA was also joined by Aneliza Ruiz and Sammy Step, who work as Well Woman peer educators. Well Woman is one of those Barnard organizations that I’ve never been quite sure of what they do and why they exist. Ruiz and Step explained that the office hosts events, craft nights, workshops, discussions, and office hours for students who want someone to talk to, including POC-only office hours. Their services primarily focus on mental and sexual health. The office is located in Reid Hall (in Barnard’s Quad), and has chocolate and a massage chair. Well Woman is looking for SGA’s help to spread the word to that the office is open to all (Barnard) students.
Both groups emphasized that lack of community is a problem felt by many students on campus. Loneliness accompanies many different experiences. Well Woman hopes to present itself as a place to hang out, relax, and build community, while Nightline hopes to continue to actively remind students that they are not alone. We hope that no matter what, we can carry the idea that there is a big group of people who are dedicating their time to care,” said Denbro. “There are always students who care. We want to make sure that everybody feels cared about.”
At the end of the meeting, SGA heard about and voted on a proposal for their endowment fund, which provides money for projects that improve the Barnard community. Katie Russell, BC’18, presented this proposal, which she called “Project Barnarden.” She did not explain what this meant, but once she started talking about soil and seeds, I used my keen critical thinking skills to understand that this is a portmanteau of “Barnard” and “garden.” Said garden will be in the Barnard Quad, and has already been approved by the college’s groundskeeper. The garden will be kept by student and faculty volunteers. Money is needed for the supplies to get the garden started and to deal with future contingencies. (“We might get a squirrel. We would need to deal with the squirrel.”) She proposed that the garden, which will grow food to be shared by the volunteers, will serve as another place to foster community on campus. How this will be different, in terms of community/hangout space, than what the Quad already provides, is uncertain. Either way, SGA voted unanimously to fund the project, so we’ll just have to see!
Image via Wikimedia Commons