Listen Up: Concordia Students’ Nightline on Its Way to Referendum to Become Fee-Levy Group

Fee Levy Would Improve Accessibility of Peer-Support Service

The Nightline is a hotline for Concordia Students to call when they need an active listener. Photo Nicholas Dundorf

Concordia Students’ Nightline passed a major hurdle on Feb. 12 in its quest to transition from student club to fee-levy group. The move would significantly extend its capacity to supplement Concordia’s overburdened mental health services.

“We’re here to listen on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, whether or not you’re crying in a bathroom stall,” the club recently wrote on Facebook.

“Everyone on our team, I think, comes to this from a genuine place of wanting to be able to provide a space of support,” said Camille Zolopa, president of Nightline.

The confidential service, which can be reached at 514-848-7787, is currently available from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. on nights it is open.

Becoming a fee-levy group would enable the organization’s volunteers to take calls every night.

“I think it’s incredibly important because we can’t ask people to only have thoughts and emotions on three nights of the week,” Zolopa said.

Nightline’s volunteers are trained to listen attentively to the thoughts and feelings of callers, no matter what’s on their mind.

“Non-judgmental listening is something we don’t always have access to in our day-to-day lives, even with friends and family,” said Zolopa. “They always have an opinion. They want to give advice.”

While the service cannot be viewed as a substitute for therapy, Zolopa sees Nightline’s active listening service as a vital alternative to what is available elsewhere at Concordia.

For many students enduring stress and turbulence, a months-long wait for an appointment at Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services might as well be an eternity.

“Wait times is something we’ve heard a lot about. People are frustrated by it,” said Zolopa.

Likewise, the undergraduate insurance plan only covers 80 per cent of the cost of psychotherapy, to a maximum of $750 annually.

This leaves struggling students in the lurch. Nightline can at least provide a caring person in whom to confide.

“Non-judgmental listening is something we don’t always have access to in our day-to-day lives, even with friends and family.” —Camille Zolopa

“Someone’s going to pick up your call, and you can talk as long as you want,” said Zolopa.

She hopes students will agree that Nightline is a good investment.

“In terms of 5 cents a credit, I think for most students that’s relatively reasonable in a semester for the service that we’re providing,” she said.

The Concordia Student Union council voted 17-0, with one abstention, in favour of including the referendum question on the upcoming ballot.

The near-unanimous vote represented a rare point of consensus for a fractious council.

“I think it goes to show that regardless of people’s political stances, […] we can all agree that mental health is an issue,” said Isaiah Joyner, the CSU’s external affairs and mobilization coordinator. “People that are working to close the gap of resources available to students for mental health is something we all want to see.”

Joyner noted that university is a stressful time in a person’s life and expressed hope that campus will one day provide students with the support they need to overcome any issue.

“We’re not there yet, but with initiatives like [Nightline], it looks like we’re taking the right steps,” he said.

Nightline presented a proposed budget based on a $0.05 per credit fee levy beginning fall 2020.

This would stabilize the group’s financial outlook and more than quadruple its training budget from its 2018-2019 level.

Nightline currently has 35 volunteers, more than the 24 it needs to achieve current service levels. However, opening each night of the week would require at least 56 volunteers to cover 112 monthly shifts, according to the club.

Nightline’s revenues in its current fiscal year are barely half what they were the previous year, according to its presentation, highlighting the need for a consistent revenue stream.

The fee levy would also facilitate new line items, such as an events budget and, eventually, funding for research.

General Coordinator Christopher Kalafatidis, who spoke in favour of the motion, argued Nightline’s trek to referendum approval reveals a need to create resources to assist groups with bureaucratic requirements, such as writing bylaws.

Several club members who sat on the floor to watch their club’s presentation were visibly stirred by the motion’s overwhelming approval at council.

“It’s a big relief,” said Zolopa, whose organization had presented twice before but faced procedural obstacles. “We’ve been working on this for three semesters,” she said.

Now the work begins to persuade students to vote “yes” to a proposal that would cost $0.25 per semester for a student taking a full course load.

“I look forward to hopefully seeing the results going their way,” said Joyner.