In an effort to prevent sexual misconduct before it occurs, the Yale College Dean’s Office has launched pilot “bystander intervention” workshops that began in March.
Organized by the Communication and Consent Educators (CCEs) — a group of 40 students employed to help improve the University’s sexual environment — the workshops encourage students to be more aware of their surroundings and take steps to intervene in uncomfortable situations, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90 said. While the workshops were mandatory for incoming freshman counselors, the CCEs have also offered optional training sessions to student groups that demonstrated interest in the initiative.
“The idea behind bystander intervention is simple: to give people better tools for recognizing and intervening in problematic situations,” Boyd said in a Tuesday email. “On campuses where bystander intervention has been studied, it appears to be especially effective in reducing the rates of sexual violence.”
This spring’s workshops are discussion-based and center on the importance of effective intervention, said Evan Walker-Wells ’13, a CCE who helped develop the workshops. Students who attend the training are first shown a video that begins with a sexual assault, followed by four alternative scenarios in which someone could have intervened and prevented the attack. Walker-Wells said CCEs use the video as a “jumping-off point” to break up into smaller discussion groups and talk about the way people think about interventions and different strategies students can use to help their friends.
“I think the workshops are one of those things which seems sort of common sense,” he said. “It seems like stuff you’ve already known and heard but it’s kind of helpful to think through it all at once. And I think after you’ve spent some time to think about intervening, it becomes a lot easier for people to imagine actively intervening when they see something.”
Emily Suran ’12, a CCE who also helped plan the one-hour workshops, said educators have already trained campus groups including Walden student counselors, peer liaisons and students living in “party suites” next year. Suran added that feedback from this semester’s pilot program will improve the workshops for next year, when she said they will be mandatory for sophomores and likely offered to other student groups as well.
Suran is a former photography and copy editor for the News.
Alison Kiss, executive director for Security on Campus, Inc. — a nonprofit organization focused on safety on college campuses — said bystander intervention has become a “newer trend” as administrators shift away from relying on individual “risk reduction” methods as the primary preventative measure for sexual violence. She added that there is evidence that suggests the importance of bystander intervention, especially since the aggressor and victim typically know each other for the majority of sexual misconduct incidents that occur on college campuses.
Still, Gina Smith, a Philadelphia-based lawyer who specializes in sexual misconduct issues, said administrators need to recognize that bystander intervention training is just “one factor in a multi-factored equation” toward improving a university’s sexual climate. She said she thinks the strategy is an “appropriate and effective” tool for raising awareness, but added that it is not sufficient to address sexual misconduct issues completely.
The workshops follow the mandatory leadership training sessions and freshman workshops that were held in January, two initiatives unveiled by the Dean’s Office this year that also aimed to reduce sexual misconduct issues on campus.
Hannah Slater ’13, an incoming freshman counselor for Berkeley College, said she thought the bystander workshops were helpful and provided “manageable tips” for intervening in situations that might lead to sexual misconduct. She said the sessions were particularly useful because they focused on a “range of scenarios that felt real and like things that would actually happen here,” adding that the sessions provided another perspective for viewing sexual misconduct.
“It was helpful for thinking about ways [that are not only] about rape,” she said, “because I think that sort of turns people off and people are like, ‘That’s the scary violence thing. That doesn’t happen here.’”
Fifty-two cases of sexual misconduct were brought to University administrators from July 1 to Dec. 31 last year, according to a January report from Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler.