Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 14. July 21, 1971
Take a bright idea, borrowed from Auckland University, some enthusiastic individuals, reasonable goodwill from student politicians, and you have a new student service. Such were the origins of 'Contact' which was first planned in 1969, and began operating last year. Now that the service has had time to solve initial difficulties, it is worth evaluating its usefulness and success.
The initial motivation for the service was the belief that students would be more prepared to use a 100% student operated information service than one that seemed to preserve of paid and disinterested outsiders. Such a service could further relieve pressure on existing aids like the Student's Assocation Office. The students manning the Contact desk were not to masquerade as amateur psychologists or counsellors, but be students who knew their University well enough to assist those who didn't; If, in addition there were students who just wanted to talk to someone, they could help in this way. But important and difficult cases were to be referred to the appropriate authorities.
There would seem to be a very hazy line of distinction in Contact's uses. Just where can the purely filing cabinet aspect of information and the well-meaning attempts at counselling be separated? It doesn't seem that experience has provided any guidelines either, so the success of Contact depends to a crucial extent on the personalities of the people in the office.
Just what sort of students are prepared to spend an hour each week operating such a service? Paul Guise, this year's organizing chairman thinks that they are in the main individuals who have experienced some of the alienating features of University life and can sympathize with others in similar positions. What sort of qualities should Contact look for in its applicants? Resourcefulness of mind and a good general knowledge of University and town. In fact it is a matter of policy to accept all those who apply. Paul Guise feels that this poses no danger however for experience has shown that the 'right types in fact apply. There has been no difficulty with chronic 'do-gooders' who might try to use the service to change the world.
As an attempt at training, there is a list of does and don'ts posted on the office notice-board. Simple instructions like advice on how to arrange chairs, a reminder not to enter calls in the records book until the client has gone; instructions that the room is not to be used as a meeting place for friends, nor the telephone for personal calls. The novice is given some 'on the job' advice in the first few weeks of the year and then left to his own (and the filing cabinet's) devices There are at present 38 people on he Contact staff and turnover so far this year has been as low as 3, who left for reasons other than job dissatisfaction.
In fact however, Contact may soon be faced with staff disillusionment and resignations. A quick glance at the record book reveals what the majority of staff members must be doing during their hour's duty. Calls have dwindled disturbingly from about 30 a day at some times last year to about 10 in recent weeks. So the staff, who are after all sacrificing one hour a week for what they believe to be a worthwhile cause do little more than sit on a hard chair for an hour asking themselves why they bother.
The Contact committee is concerned about this problem and has considered ways of extending Contact's use. Advertising has been very poor so far this year although in recent weeks Contact has at least had its services trumpeted through Newsheet. A series of posters is also planned. Of course there was the information sheet sent with enrollment forms at the beginning of the year but it may well have been treated as just another bit of bureaucratic excess and ignored. Does every student in fact know about Contact? Increased publicity can at least do no harm.
If the use of Contact doesn't improve the question of whether it is really necessary will have to be asked. Paul Guise feels that the service is warranted if even only 2 or 3 students a day find it helpful. But if there is staff disaffection and difficulties of recruitment this might prove impossible to sustain. Do students need such a service? Paul Guise thinks that the view that studnts are forthright and able to look after themselves in mistaken. He maintains that many students are in fact shy and unsure about approaching staff members for help. He cites the case of the third year history student who didn't know where the History Department was. Contact can act as a kind of intermediary to bridge such communication gaps. As the University grows, problems of alienation and feelings of helplessness can only magnify and Contact can be seen as a small attempt to humanize the system and provide a basis for student to student help.
Does Contat have a place in the University or was the establishment of the service at Victoria a mistake? It is the Contact organisation just taking up valuable room space in the union building and $100 of student funds for no benefit? Unless performance, and this means use of the service improves, these questions will undoubtedly assume greater significance.