Students clearly need extra help, says Berend Roorda. ‘We could no longer ignore the news about stressed out, lonely students.’
Roorda is the vice chair of SKLO (Studentenkoepel voor Levensbeschouwelijke Organisaties). A few years ago, he was shocked to find out that a former roommate had killed himself. ‘I hadn’t realised that he was struggling, even though the things that led to his suicide had been bothering him as a student as well. But we all just tend to put up a front.’
‘Associations have people their students can talk to’, says Roorda. ‘All Ears wants to be there for all the other students, like internationals. We have study advisers and student psychologists for specific issues, of course, but the waiting lists for those are usually long.’ The ‘ears’ in All Ears aren’t psychologists or advisers. They are professional student workers who all belong to organisations that fall under SKLO’s umbrella.
It doesn’t matter what the students want to talk about; they can confess anything. ‘It’s completely anonymous and we don’t judge anyone for what they tell us. We’re not here to propagate our own ideas. We’re here to listen.’
One of the ears in the organisation is Hendrik Timmer (32), a student social worker with International Fellowship of Evangalical Students (IFES). He’s noticed how international students are overwhelmed by the stress of being in a new culture. ‘But they’ve got no one to talk to about that in their programme’, says Timmer. ‘Of course, it’s not necessarily directly related to studying. But if they can’t talk about small things like this, they can blow up and become big things.’
Timmer says listening to people’s secrets – and keeping them – can be ‘intense, but not that difficult’. ‘I’m just glad to help people unburden themselves.’
‘We always try to help people figure out their next step. If they’ve lost someone close to them, we might refer them to the grieving and loss classes at the GSp. If Muslim students come to us looking for like-minded people we tell them to check out ISV Deen. If they’re having trouble reconciling their religion and their sexuality, Jonge Vlinders might be a place of solace for them.’
All Ears does not aim to replace psychologists and proper treatment plans, though. They refer the students struggling with bigger issues to the student psychologist’s office. At the same time, study advisers and the Student Service Centre might tell students about All Ears.
‘So far, the project is only a pilot, but we’ve been getting positive feedback from the study advisers and the SSC’, says Roorda. The pilot phase will last at least until after the summer holidays. ‘Especially first-year students tend to really struggle during the first few months of the academic year’, says Roorda, speaking from his own experience as a lecturer in law.
What would it take for Roorda to consider the pilot a success? ‘That’s difficult to say. If we can help even a handful of students, I’m happy. Or if we can prevent something like what happened to my former roommate even just once – I’d feel like we succeeded.’
You can visit All Ears every Wednesday between 2 and 4 pm Onder de Bogen at the Harmonie building. If you can’t make it then, you can schedule an appointment through their website.