Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New class puts USF students in the middle of life and death decisions

USF sophomore Annie Phillips, 19, monitors a substance abuse hotline Wednesday at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

USF sophomore Annie Phillips, 19, monitors a substance abuse hotline Wednesday at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

TAMPA — The phone rang.

Alejandra Arango took a deep breath and picked it up. On the other end, she heard sobs.

This is bad, Arango thought. She'd listened in on calls like this before, but never answered a crisis call herself.

She knew what she had to ask, so she just came out and said it: "Are you thinking about suicide? Is this why you're calling?"

The voice said, "yes," and Arango's heart dropped to her stomach.

I can't freak out, she told herself. I have to do this.

• • •

Arango, a 21-year-old University of South Florida student, is getting college credit to help people stay alive.

For weeks, others have trained her. She knows to be direct. She knows to ask people questions that make them think beyond their immediate despair. And there's always a supervisor listening to her on the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay telephone hotline.

The 211 Hotline Service Learning Course is new to USF this year.

Lisa Brown, the professor who created it, said she wanted to give students interested in public health or counseling a chance to apply classroom lessons to real life. Plus, it helps the Crisis Center, which is in constant need of volunteers.

Nine students signed up. Two dropped out. Brown said three weren't quite ready to counsel people in crisis. Four young women made the final cut.

They started with the information line — people calling for help finding food stamps or homeless shelters, or wanting to vent about losing jobs or homes or kids. Then came the crisis calls.

"Using a bike as an example, in most college courses you learn the history of bikes, social and physical benefits of bike riding, and how to build a bike," Brown said. But in her course, "you actually ride a bike, a big and significant difference."

The students are required to spend at least eight hours a week in the call center. They also have to write reflection papers and attend class once a week, where they talk about their experiences.

There are no tests — not written, anyway.

• • •

Christine Hilliard, a biology sophomore, says every time she leaves the Crisis Center she feels more connected to the world. "I grew up with a privileged life," she said in class one day. "The real world is not what I thought the real world was. Things aren't black and white."

Amber Boose, a junior majoring in public health, wrote in a reflection paper that the class has changed her. When she sees someone on campus who looks upset, she stops and asks what's wrong. "I thought it'd be a lot more difficult to get people to talk to you," Boose said. "But now it's different, different in a good way."

Annie Phillips, a sophomore studying microbiology, says her long nights at the call center have become the most rewarding part of the semester. "There's this point in the call when there aren't any additional resources you can give them," Phillips said. "They're just happy that they have someone to talk to."

And then there's Arango, who now knows that her goal of becoming a psychologist is the right one.

• • •

The caller was crying so uncontrollably he could barely speak.

"This is really hard," he told her.

He was a teenager, not many years younger than Arango. He told her he was having trouble at school and at home with his family. He was struggling with his sexual identity. He felt like he'd reached a dead end.

He had a plan for how to kill himself before his parents got home.

Arango had a plan, too.

"Tell me about your friends," she said. "Tell me about your goals."

They talked for an hour and a half about things that made him happy in the past and things he had to live for in the future.

They talked about how he might spend his evening. He said he would eat something, call a friend and watch a movie.

She told him she'd check back on him later that night, and when she actually did, he seemed surprised.

"Thank you," he told her.

She hung up, and the phone rang again.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or 813-226-3337.

Need help?

Dial 211 to reach a crisis hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Need help?

Dial 211 to reach a crisis hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

New class puts USF students in the middle of life and death decisions 10/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 2:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 16, 2017

    Blogs

    Seems like Broward County has started a domino effect. It was the first school board to commit to filing a lawsuit against the state and its controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. Then, the St. Lucie County School Board signed on, too. A running tally of school boards that have reportedly expressed interested in …

    Kali Davis (left), training director for Springboard to Success, helps to coach Justin Black (center), who will be starting his third year of teaching PE at Melrose Elementary, as he works to instruct students in a math lesson during the Spring Board program of Summer Bridge at Woodlawn Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
  2. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally

    Business

    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  3. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees

    Politics

    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  4. Rays blow lead in ninth, lose in 10 to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Kevin Cash liked the way Alex Cobb was competing Friday night. He liked the way the hard contact made by the Rangers batters went away after the second or third inning. So as the game headed toward the ninth, there was no doubt in Cash's mind that sending Cobb back to the mound was …

    Rays starter Alex Cobb can hardly believe what just happened as he leaves the game in the ninth after allowing a leadoff double then a tying two-run homer to the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo.
  5. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact

    World

    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.