Buckeye Peer Access Line helps students support students
At night in a non-descript office on the Columbus campus of The Ohio State University, the digital chime of a phone rings. A student answers and begins to talk to a fellow student, offering support for an Ohio State peer.
They are the voices behind the Buckeye Peer Access Line: students helping students with a conversation, a willingness to listen and the know-how to help navigate Ohio State.
The access line is a non-emergency talk line to support students through brief phone conversations and guide them toward the campus resources available to them. The access line is an innovation proposed by fourth-year students Carmen Greiner and Emily Kearney.
Greiner and Kearney were roommates in their second year and felt called to action after apparent suicide attempts in the campus area.
“That was obviously upsetting for us,” Greiner, an English major, said. “Coming to such a prestigious university and then seeing these things happen – we were just thinking, what can we do as students?”
Around the same time Greiner and Kearney were looking for solutions, President Michael V. Drake commissioned the Suicide and Mental Health Task Force to examine Ohio State’s suicide prevention efforts and mental health services. Kearney, a neuroscience major, said she heard about a student access line from her mother, citing her college days at State University of New York – Albany.
“So that’s when I started doing a bunch of research to see what programs other universities have,” Kearney said.
Greiner and Kearney found peer access line programs at several universities around the country and compiled their research into an email to task force co-chair Javaune Adams-Gaston, then-senior vice president for student life.
“We spent an hour and a half writing this email to Dr. J, saying, ‘Here is this information that we found, that we think could be applied in some capacity on our campus,’” Greiner said. “And she emailed us back and asked us for a meeting. We didn’t actually ask her for a meeting. That was her idea. It was amazing to be responded to like that.”
Fast forward a few months and Greiner and Kearney presented their idea to the Suicide and Mental Health Task Force, and it was ultimately included as a recommendation in the final report.
The Office of Student Life guided the development and implementation of the Buckeye Peer Access Line (PAL) with Greiner and Kearney assisting along the way. Now, a little more than a year after they proposed the idea, it’s up and running.
"The one thing that I found amongst all the different articles was that students respond better if they’re talking to a peer."
Student volunteers help power the access line. They go through 40 hours of training with instruction on how to be an active listener and motivational interviewing. During training, the volunteers conduct role-playing exercises to guide callers to the proper resources.
“It’s not just a bunch of students on the phone willy-nilly. There’s a structure, we’re trained and there are always supervisors,” Kearney said. “There’s always a supervisor there in the event we get a crisis call.”
Topics of conversation with PAL volunteers can include the challenges of adjusting to college life, managing stress, dealing with the pressure to succeed and navigating platonic, romantic and family relationships. The volunteers are not professional counselors – and they aren’t meant to be.
“The one thing that I found amongst all the different articles was that students respond better if they’re talking to a peer,” Kearney said.
If a student calls and is in crisis, the volunteers are trained to bring in their supervisor and then connect the student in crisis with the university’s after-hours Counseling and Consultation Service.
“We don’t want them to have to hang up and call CCS. If they’re in crisis you want them to stay on the line and that way you know they are getting what they need,” Kearney said.
The access line offers another layer of support to students and advances one of the main goals of the task force: to build a culture of care on campus.
Right now Buckeye PAL operates weekdays from 8 p.m. to midnight when classes are in session during fall and spring semesters.
After all of the planning, research and training, the launch of the service is an exciting moment of achievement.
“The first time we went in the room and the first time I heard the phone ring, I literally cried,” Greiner said. “We were in the room and I was crying happy tears.”
Buckeye PAL operates weekdays from 8 p.m. to midnight when classes are in session during fall and spring semesters. Call 614-514-3333.