University teaches students bystander intervention techniques


Friday night 30 students gathered in Campbell Hall on the College Avenue campus, and over the din of a city in motion, learned how to SCREAM.

The Bystander Intervention Training Event, run by the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) in partnership with Students Challenging Realities and Educating Against Myths (SCREAM) Theater, hoped to transform students into positive active bystanders.

This event was the capstone in the students’ training, upon completion of the day’s activities they would receive a certificate in bystander intervention, marking them as trained active bystanders.

“The purpose of this event is to challenge our campus community to stand up for each other to recognize that ending sexual violence is the community's issue. This is not something we can do at the individual level,” Brady Root, the prevention education coordinator for VPVA, said. “We need everyone to be involved.”

Many students fail to intervene when they see something they know is wrong, Root said. They think that the only way to intervene is direct confrontation.

“Interventions look different for everyone ... you don't need to be a person who directly calls someone out,” she said. “(You can) come up with a way to distract them.”

To learn these subtler methods of intervention the students participated in role play activities in which they would act out interventions.

The role plays varied in their subject, ranging from cases of attempted rape or domestic abuse to acts of casual racism or sexism.

“A lot of the common ones are more subtle methods that people can feel more comfortable doing,” said Daniel Mesa, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year student. “If you notice that someone is uncomfortable with somebody else's actions ... you could spill your drink on the perpetrator to get them out of that mindset.”

Students are more likely to intervene, if they have practiced it in the past, Root said, citing research performed in 2010 at the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers.

To aid students in enacting these interventions, they are are taught a five-step process.

First, they must notice the event. Second, they must identify the event as intervention appropriate. Then students must choose to take responsibility. Then they decide how to act. After those steps, the students intervene, Root said.

The Bystander Intervention Training is not focused solely on sexual assault.

“When we talk about bystander intervention in this training we talk more broadly than just sexual violence,” Root said. “So we will be talking about racism, sexism, homophobia (and) other types of issues that people can absolutely intervene on and have.”

The training also put focus on changing campus culture and challenging various toxic behaviors that have become norms.

“It’s not just about intervening when something drastic is happening,” said Ellen Miller, a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior and a SCREAM athlete coordinator. “It really is about challenging that culture ... when people degrade women, the whole ratio system and how we've turned women into currency to go to parties.”

While not everyone will see a sexual assault occur and be able to act to stop it, we can all challenge these norms in an effort to change the campus climate into one where these things don’t occur, she said.

Both the staff and the students showed a lot of faith in the effectiveness of their program and the worth of their cause.

“I think what we do at SCREAM is to make this very serious topic approachable,” Miller said. “We give you a way in ... you can be part of this without being a diehard feminist or a trained activist or a police officer.”

Root stressed that everyone do what they can to help.

“Whether they think they should be involved or not, we need to have people talking about this, paying attention to it supporting survivors, when they come forward challenging their friends if they think their behavior is inappropriate,” Root said.

That is their goal. The entire campus needs to lend a hand. If the team can reach all the groups on campus and convince them to help, things could really change, she said.

“These are incredibly important issues,” Mesa said. “It’s very important that you look to educate yourself, we have so many resources here at Rutgers ... you can find incredibly amounts of information on these subjects and really arm yourself with knowledge so that you can be informed and be compassionate in being an active fighter.”


Nikita Biryukov

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