Mandatory bystander training introduced for sophomores

All sophomores will be required to complete a 75-minute bystander intervention training as part of an ongoing effort to improve the campus sexual climate, according to a Wednesday email to the class of 2015 from Yale College Dean Mary Miller and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90.

Over 90 workshop sessions on strategies for preventing sexual misconduct as a third party will be held from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. The program will be run in small groups of 14 or 15 students, and each group will be led by student communication and consent educators in an effort to establish a conversational setting, Boyd said. The curriculum of the training consists of a video showing a hypothetically harmful scenario, an overview of the ideas behind bystander intervention and group discussions about applicable situations.

“This is a fairly new area in sexual violence prevention,” Boyd told the News. “Preliminary research at other universities is showing that bystander intervention training can produce dramatic drops of sexual violence on campus, as well as improving the climate overall.”

In contrast to traditional prevention programs that target potential victims or perpetrators, bystander intervention will teach students methods to respond to instances of sexual misconduct as third-party community members, Boyd said. Sexual assault tends to unfold through fairly standardized two-person interactions, according to studies, but the introduction of a third party quickly disrupts the original power dynamic and can prevent potential sexual misconduct, Boyd said. The program aims to encourage students’ tendencies to intervene in harmful situations and to shift the broader mindset of the campus community, rather than emphasizing the promotion of new content, she added.

The entire sophomore class will be trained because bystander intervention is most effective at a community level, Boyd said. Training of sophomores will round out existing workshops given to freshmen, which educate them about the dynamics of sexual pressure, and leadership training workshops geared toward juniors and seniors. The added sophomore workshops are part of an effort to structure the University’s sexual awareness programs more effectively, with bystander trainings a “middle ground” between the existing approaches for students in other classes.

“Yale looks very different to sophomores than it does to freshmen,” said Paul McKinley DRA ’96, spokesman for the Yale College Dean’s Office. “You’re not focusing so much on yourself, your field of vision is so much broader.”

The training will focus on early intervention, which is more effective than stepping in when sexual misconduct is about to occur, Boyd said. Students will discuss methods to give friends “an out” in uncomfortable situations and ways to pick up signals of unhealthy interactions, she added.

Pilot versions of the workshop have been conducted previously with freshman counselors, peer liaisons, CCEs, members of party suites on campus and various other student groups, Boyd said.

Daisuke Gatanaga ’14, an Asian American Cultural Center peer liaison who took part in a pilot workshop, said he had a positive experience with the training sessions and felt the training would be applicable to a large portion of campus.

Bystander intervention programs at the University of New Hampshire and the University of Kentucky have largely proven successful, said Joan Tabachnick SOM ’86, author of “Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention.” Bystander intervention training shows positive results because people learn to be more aware of signals for action, Tabachnick said.

“It’s like knowing when you see a drunk driver to take away their keys or not let them drive, which is very different from the understanding when I was growing up,” she said.

Nine out of 10 sophomores interviewed said they do not think the workshops will be effective.

Bystander intervention training was initially piloted by the University of New Hampshire.

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