Johnson County Crisis Center begins international-student training for chat program


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The Johnson County Crisis Center has begun training 12 University of Iowa international students to offer online Crisis Chat in Mandarin Chinese to students, and officials there say the implementation of this service will provide students with more resources when they seek help.

This online chat, available from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, allows people to anonymously chat with Crisis Center volunteers.

“I think it is really exciting to reach out to a population that may not feel comfortable reaching out to our other services,” said Rachel Beach, the Crisis Chat coordinator for the center.

The program is set to launch in late-April to mid-May, following the orientation and training of the volunteers.

Conversations about the plan began last semester, and the threat-assessment team at the UI decided Mandarin Chinese was the language with the greatest need. The center hopes to add languages in the future following more analysis. Possibilities include Spanish and Arabic.

The committee in charge of choosing the languages factors in the number of students in Johnson County who speak the language, along with the number of calls the center receives — factors that led to choosing Mandarin Chinese.

International students account for roughly 10 percent of the UI’s enrollment. Chinese students account for the largest group of international students.

The Crisis Center partnered with the UI, and the latter applied for the Garret Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant. The grant gives $270,000 in federal support over a period of three years.

The UI first applied for the grant in April 2011 but was denied.

But the passing of the Affordable Care Act allotted federal money to be spent on prevention — providing funds for programs such as the Crisis Center. The UI received funds in the fall of 2012.

When the grant expires in three years, the center will attempt to gather community and university support.

“It’s a really innovative use of the Crisis Chat,” said Sam Cochran, the director of University Counseling Service.

Because the Crisis Center structure is already in place, Cochran said, the program will likely be able to continue through funding by the university and International Students and Scholars.

“I think if someone wanted to speak in their native language, it might be easier for them to say what they mean,” said Keyan Li, a native Mandarin Chinese speaker at the UI.

But another student said the necessity depends on the students.

“If they understand the language, then it might not be necessary to speak in a native language,” UI student Jing Ting said.  “It will vary from student to student.”

Keri Neblett, the community intervention director for the Crisis Center, said she believes the program will aid the center’s cultural awareness.

“I think being able to reach out to the international-student population is a great opportunity to provide services in a new format,” she said.

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