Ears for Peers, a student organization at Tufts that provides students with a place to express their concerns, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Callers who use the resource can talk about issues ranging from roommate challenges to feelings of loneliness. When students call the designated Ears for Peers phone number, they are matched with an “Ear” — an anonymous Tufts student who is on the other line. Callers are able to talk to someone to work through their issues, with the understanding that their conversation will remain confidential.
Heather Mei, a senior and one of the faces of Ears for Peers, feels that the organization provides a stress-free resource for students to talk about everyday concerns. The program has been fine-tuned to be accessible for multiple students to call at the same time.
“Ears for Peers is an anonymous, confidential peer support hotline. We operate through phone and texting service[s] every night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.. Something a lot of people might not know about Ears [for Peers] is that there are always two Ears on the line! We sometimes can get multiple calls or text messages and like to be prepared in case there are multiple things happening,” she explained.
The anonymity of Ears for Peers’ service provides students with the relief of knowing that their expressed challenges will remain between them and the “Ear” on the other line. In a statement released by Meredith Davis (A’91), an alumni coordinator for Ears for Peers, she stressed the beneficial impact of the anonymous aspect of Ears for Peers, explaining that it is a key element of the organization and provides a person to talk to without the burden of making an appointment with a therapist.
“Their idea was to start a peer counseling hotline so that you could talk to someone your own age and not worry about whether you were going to be in trouble if you were experiencing something that was a little taboo … there’s an advantage to just talk[ing] to someone on the phone instead of summoning the courage to go into any sort of office and do[ing] it that way. It was also the advantage of being able to talk to people at whatever time of day or night that they were experiencing their crisis instead of saying I’m having a problem, but I have to make an appointment,” she stated.
Maddie Gupta, a senior and another face of the Ears for Peers organization, explained that they work to be not only a resource for students to talk about issues but also a bridge between students and other health services on campus. Gupta clarified that if an “Ear” feels that a caller would benefit from another health service provided at Tufts, they are equipped to connect them with this service. This, again, alleviates callers of the stress of having to search for this information on their own.
“Our goal is to help Tufts students feel understood and heard. Any Tufts student who is feeling lonely, sad, angry or anything can pick up the phone and have a caring peer on the other end, ready to listen to them, keep them company and try and help them feel better. We’re also aiming to help bridge the gap between the different resources available on campus, so we try to point our callers in the direction of resources on campus that can help them beyond our organization’s capacity, such as Tufts Counseling and Mental Health Services. Ultimately, Ears for Peers is striving to create a safe non-judgmental environment for callers to share their thoughts and feelings,” she said.
Mei reflected on why the organization was initially created 30 years ago. She explained that the founder, Jodi Daniels (A’89), had a friend who was going through a difficult time in her life. Daniels felt that there was a need for an organization that helped students feel as though they had an anonymous support system on campus.
“Ears was created about 30 years ago because our founder, Jodi, had a friend who was going through a challenging situation. When she wanted to find someone to talk to about it, she realized there was no service like this on campus. At first, Jodi was hesitant about taking on the role of founding the club, but when she realized there was a lot of interest, she decided to create Ears for Peers. There were a lot of initial challenges, but Jodi managed to overcome those challenges and get Ears running,” she said.
Ears for Peers stands out not only because of its anonymous nature but also because its users talk on the phone with fellow students. Gupta explained that speaking to a fellow student allows for users to speak to someone who could potentially relate to the issues they may be going through.
“Students usually feel more comfortable talking to other students so we want to provide that opportunity for them to talk to someone who might be able to empathize and relate to the challenges and struggles of a college student,” she said.
Several “Ears” responded to an anonymous survey put out by the organization. One “Ear” felt that the student-to-student model allows for callers to feel validated and that their issues are important concerns.
“People often minimize their problems and feel like their struggles aren’t real or valid enough to warrant therapy or any form of professional help,” the “Ear” explained. Having peer listeners as a resource means that people feel more comfortable talking about things that are seemingly small — like a bad day, missing a friend or a rough exam. To us, all concerns are are worth listening too!”
Another anonymous “Ear” stated that Ears for Peers has provided an opportunity to work with people who share a passion for helping others.
“Ears is such a wonderful organization to be a part of. Every member genuinely cares and wants to help people, which I think is so beautiful. More kindness and just listening to others and hearing what they need to say is needed in the world. I just hope that Ears is more widely known and heard about especially to the people that need another listening ear in their lives,” the “Ear” stated.
When asked about why she got involved, Gupta explained that she feels fulfilled by helping other students on campus with a lending “Ear.” By working with the organization, she felt able to extend her reach to help others on campus.
“I joined Ears for Peers my sophomore year because I noticed that I often naturally adopted the ‘listener’ role for many of my friends anyway, and just wanted to extend the reach I could have to possibly help more people at Tufts. It’s a privilege to be an “Ear” because it gives me such a valuable and unique insight into the pulse of campus. When I’ve stayed up all night listening to my peers’ stories and struggles, it is easier for me to remember that everyone is just navigat[ing] their own complicated lives,” Gupta answered.
Gupta went on to say that working with Ears for Peers has provided her with different perspectives to college life.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s easy to get swept away hearing about how everyone else is thriving and it makes you feel more alone when you’re having a hard time,” she reflected. “Being in Ears reminds me that truly everyone is just trying their best — college is hard for everyone! It was definitely difficult to keep it fully confidential — my friends would start to get suspicious about me sneaking away at midnight. But it is always worth it!”