Maitreyi Kale, Human Factors Engineering M.S. Candiate
Have you ever wanted to scream into the void about your problems? Vent to someone who’ll never gossip about you? Freak out about adulting in secret because everyone else seems to have their life figured out? Or just have a listening ear in the middle of the night?
One of the many perks of being a Jumbo is that you totally can! Ears for Peers is Tufts’ anonymous, student-run peer support hotline, and you can call or text Ears every night from 7 PM to 7 AM about absolutely anything. I’ve been a part of Ears for Peers (E4P) since my freshman year (Fall 2018), and it is by far the best most meaningful thing I do on campus. Why am I openly talking about being an Ear, if we’re supposed to be anonymous? This year, I am one of the Faces of Ears for Peers alongside the wonderful Libby Moser, and we are the only two non-anonymous members of the organization. You might see us around campus tabling for Ears, spreading the word about Ears as a resource and giving out free merch. I love being Face, because it means I get to talk about my favorite organization after having been anonymous for three years!
A lot of students don’t know this, but E4P is available as a resource to graduate students, too (and we sure do need it). So if you need someone to talk to, you can call us at 617-627-3888, or text us at ears4peers.herokuapp.com/ every night from 7 PM to 7 AM. We’re working on making it so you can text the number as well, so follow us on Instagram @ears4peers for updates on when that becomes possible! All Ears are Tufts students like you, so calls usually feel like chill conversations with a friend; we try our best to match the energy that you’re looking for! Since we’re fully anonymous and confidential, we’ll never know who’s calling or texting us, and you won’t know who you’re talking to, because our systems hide identifying information.
Ears are trained to handle a wide range of topics. With over 600 calls just last year, we’ve gotten calls about everything from relationship problems, to homesickness, academic troubles, to mental health struggles, and so much more. We’re familiar with Tufts resources on campus (and many off campus) and can provide personalized recommendations to callers if they’re interested. Despite being an Ear myself, I’ve called the line when I wasn’t on shift, because in bad moments, it’s comforting to know that I’m confiding in someone who doesn’t see me as a “burden”.
Curious about what it’s like to be an Ear – besides gaining access to a secret group of actual superheroes as friends? Ears take 4 shifts per month, either from 7-11 PM or 11 PM to 7 AM. Shifts are taken in pairs, so you’re never alone, in a secret room that has beds, desks, computers, snacks, etc. so you can do homework, go to sleep, or exchange life stories with the other Ear on shift. When the phone rings or the text line goes off, you pick up, help someone out, and experience the fulfillment that comes with it. Sometimes, you end up having a great, hilarious conversation with a caller and get mad that you’re anonymous and cannot be best friends with said caller. And every now and then, your friends might ask you where you’re headed in the middle of the night when you’re on shift or attending a meeting, but it’s a secret, so you get pretty good at thinking on the spot, I guess?
Being an Ear has made me feel so connected to the Tufts community. I love talking to our callers and texters and hearing about their lives, being trusted with their most vulnerable selves. Sometimes, we get callers who reach out frequently throughout the year and it is a privilege to watch them grow over time and support them through their Tufts journey. Sometimes, Tufts students call us because they’re worried about a friend and just want to help. Every day as an Ear feels like a celebration of the inherent goodness of human beings! Every so often, a caller is hard on themselves about difficult situations and emotions, and you end up saying something to them that maybe you needed to hear yourself. I remember being devastated about the end of my first relationship ever during my sophomore year at Tufts, and while on shift, I received a call from someone going through a breakup. In supporting the caller as they processed their breakup, I found myself telling them “It’s okay. I know it’s not okay right now, but some day, it’s going to be okay, and that’s what makes it okay” and realized that I actually believed that I’d be okay for the first time since my breakup… I’d really needed to hear it myself.
My favorite Ears tradition is The Gritch, which is a journal that sits in our room for Ears on shift to write in. The Gritch brings us closer together as a group, because we vent and respond to each other’s entries, and some Ears have even found love through writing to each other through the Gritch :’) Since Ears has been running since 1989, we have some Gritches from thirty years ago, and it’s super interesting to read first-hand accounts of what Tufts was like in the past! Like, I know it’s frustrating for us to deal with SIS to enroll in courses every semester, but did you know that in 1995, Jumbos used to line up outside Eaton Hall to register for their classes in person?! Can you imagine waiting in line for hours and only to find out that that course you really wanted to take filled up by the time it was your turn? It’s also fun to see what previous generations of Ears are up to now; Josh Wolk (A91), the founder of Tufts’ humor magazine The Zamboni, was secretly an Ear and wrote some of the funniest entries in the first Gritch ever. When I internet-stalked him (as one does), I found that he’s published a hilarious book called Cabin Pressure, which is about the time he returned to his childhood summer camp but as an adult counselor. A copy of that book now sits in the Ears room!
Many people ask me why I decided to continue doing Ears during my master’s program, with everything else grad students tend to have on their plates. In an effort to end my history of overcommitting and overbooking myself (classic Tufts undergrad behavior), I promised myself to only give my time and effort to things I cared about most this year; Ears for Peers has contributed immensely to my growth as a person and my understanding of the human experience, so continuing to be an Ear during grad school felt like a no-brainer to me. As a bonus, some of my closest friends at Tufts were/are Ears, and our bonding nights spent playing board games, doing paint and sips, chatting around campfires, are some of my most cherished Tufts memories.
Growing up in India, around a culture of shame and stigma surrounding mental health, I craved a community that acknowledged its significance and supported each other through these “hidden” difficulties. I feel proud to be going to a school whose students have set up such a unique, wonderful resource to support its community. I’m sure I speak for all Ears when I say: I know from personal experience what a difference it makes to have someone be there for you through a rough time. So, if you ever need anyone to talk to, know that we’re ear for you!