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The Bridge looks to Zoom for online counseling

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The Bridge Peer Counseling Center will offer an adjusted online counseling service for students over spring quarter.

Drop-in counseling appointments will be offered online through audio-only Zoom calls between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. PT, seven days a week. The Zoom calls will mimic the structure of a conventional walk-in appointment, according to live-in counselor Devon Burger M.S. ’20. 

“We’re able to counsel pretty normally,” she said. 

Students seeking an appointment can follow a link to join a group call with available Bridge counselors, who will then transfer them to a private breakout room to have an anonymous one-on-one conversation with a counselor. Full instructions on how to reach a counselor are listed on the Bridge’s website.

With the majority of Stanford’s undergraduate population off campus for the duration of the University’s remotely administered spring quarter, the Bridge’s regular in-person and 24-hour phone services — normally administered from the center’s on-campus location at Rogers House — will not be available. 

Despite the changes, the Bridge’s Zoom service will be “similar to how students have been using the Bridge historically,” wrote Bridge faculty advisor Alejandro Martinez in an email to The Daily.

“In the past, around 75% of contacts made to the Bridge were by telephone,” he wrote. “Moving to online audio only sessions will basically be the same as a telephone call.” 

The Bridge’s website states that “privacy is maintained because Zoom encrypts your audio/video,” though students will also need to ensure their anonymity by editing their displayed name on Zoom before joining a call.

Zoom has come under scrutiny for the platform’s susceptibility to “Zoombombing” — the disruption of calls by unwelcome guests and trolls — and flaws in the platform’s encryption.

“There are other technologies we considered using as well,” said live-in counselor Armin Namavari M.S. ’19. “We eventually decided to go with Zoom because that’s what CAPS was using and what a lot of Stanford services were using.”

Namavari added that counselors had been given a “Zoom manual for counselling” with instructions on removing disruptive callers, and that the use of one-on-one breakout rooms for counselling would protect counsellees from trolls who enter the initial call. 

Live-in counselors also said a move to an online-only service would present challenges for the Bridge’s leadership to support its staff of volunteer counselors.

“The fact that the live-ins are a constant presence makes it easier for us to debrief on calls right after they happen,” Namavari said. “Also if counselors need to be coached through a difficult call, they have access to us as a resource. That’s going to be much harder to recreate this quarter now that everyone is spread about.”

According to Burger and Namavari, counselors will work shifts in pairs to support each other when necessary and the live-in team, while off campus, will remain available by phone to support counselors from afar. 

“We’re still playing that role,” Burger said. “We wanted to make sure we still had those same support structures that people would have in Rogers House.”

Despite the challenges, Burger does not expect a shortage of counselors and described an “outpouring of support” from the community.

“I feel like we have had more people who are interested in staffing than we do in a normal quarter, which is great,” added Bridge staff coordinator Jade Riopelle ’21. “People have been really eager to help.”

The Bridge is also looking into plans to sustain its online service through the summer. On Friday, Stanford announced that the University’s summer session will be offered online only.

“The summer is still tentative, we’re trying to work it out,” Burger said. “We’d like to be open.”

Contact Daniel Wu at dwu21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Daniel Wu '21 is a Desk Editor for News, and also contributes to Sports, Arts & Life and The Daily's Graphics team. Contact him at dwu21 'at' stanford.edu.
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