Bystander intervention training asks students to step up for peers

<p>Students met in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center Tuesday to learn how to be active bystanders in situations where others might need help. <strong>Sara Barker, DN</strong></p>

Students met in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center Tuesday to learn how to be active bystanders in situations where others might need help. Sara Barker, DN

During bystander intervention training Tuesday, ­­­Paulina Wojtach asked students to close their eyes and visualize someone they love. Then, she told them to imagine someone wanting to hurt that person.

Everyone has their “person,” she said, and when an emergency happens, everyone wishes someone would have stuck up for theirs.

“Sometimes you might not even know that person,” Wojtach said, “But that, person is somebody else’s person.”

Wojtach and Jacob Boo, two master’s students from the Counseling Center, trained 15 undergraduate students at the L.A. Pittenger Student Center how to be active bystanders in emergencies and dire situations, including sexual assault and insensitive speech.

Hosted by the Student Government Association, the bystander intervention training was open to the public and counted for Interfraternity Council members to qualify to end their social probation.

Ryan Seymour, an IFC member and senior aquatic biology and fishery sciences major, said he attended for bigger reasons than to fulfill the requirements needed to end his fraternity’s social pause.

“To help fulfill [the requirements] and to actually follow through and not just be one of those to sign in and possibly leave, to fully go through the program and better campus overall — that’s why I’m here,” Seymour said.

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The point of the training was to combat the bystander effect, a social phenomenon where someone watching an emergency is less likely to intervene when in a group. 

To overcome it, instructors laid out the five steps of bystander intervention:

  1. Notice the event.
  2. Determine if it’s intervention-appropriate.
  3. Take responsibility.
  4. Decide how to help.
  5. Take action and intervene.

Althea Williams, a junior psychology and women and gender studies major, said the most important part of being a bystander is making yourself intervene.

“Even if you’re uncomfortable, you have to push yourself to [intervene]. If you know you’re going to be safe, it’s just really you building the confidence to do it,” Williams said.

After the main presentation, Wojtach and Boo gave students in the room scenarios where they could practice being brave in uncertain situations, including hypothetically confronting someone who makes rape jokes and a couple who become physically abusive in a public place.

A master’s student in sport and exercise psychology and clinical mental health counseling, Allison Blake thought empathizing with victims through the scenarios made bystander intervention essential.

Seymour said gender was also a factor in the likelihood of bystander intervention happening, with situations where men are victims acted upon less than when women are victims. However, that difference did not mean either was less worthy of help to Seymour.

“What it comes down to is if you’re needing help, find help,” Seymour said. “You’ll always have someone, even if you don’t think so.”

IFC’s social probation ends Jan. 31 for fraternities who have met the qualifications.

Contact Sara Barker with comments at or on Twitter at @sarabarker326.


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