This week’s brown bag was facilitated by members of Colgate’s chapter of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Bystander Program. This group of students, faculty, and staff concentrates on the ways that bystanders to instances or potential instances of sexual and physical violence can be fundamental in shifting the campus climate by intervening in these situations. By providing ways that people can step into and create enough pause in potentially dangerous situations, an environment where it is clear that sexual assault is not acceptable can be fostered. The focus on bystanders is intentional, and a way of saying that those who are outside of the situation but observe it happening still have an obligation to fulfill in insuring the safety of others. So, there were quite a few “what would you do?” scenarios presented during this brown bag and discussion started from the audience’s answers of how they would deal with a friend in a compromising situation or a stranger - would it be different if it was happening in your dorm? or in someone else’s dorm? what about a neutral space like The Jug? An overwhelming majority of the audience agreed that they would find a way to step in to rescue a friend, although there was a fear of creating awkwardness (what if your friend actually wants to engage in this activity?) and seeming condescending in that situation (who am I to tell someone to take a step back?). There was much conversation about what would give a bystander hesitation in those situations, but not much solution to be found on how to overcome that. I think it is already the case that people believe they should stand up in those situations . . . the problem is that they don’t. And talking about why they don’t act seems more like an opportunity for people to justify inaction rather than an opportunity to correct those hesitations. What do these preparations look like? Do you plan with your friends beforehand to come up with some kind of signal that says “get me out of this situation, please?”; do you rehearse how you might stumble into someone else’s conversation to make the situation less dangerous; do you role play situations so that it’s less awkward when the real thing comes along? Some of these suggestions might seem silly, but I think this is because a lot of students have the attitude that “this won’t happen to me” even though it does happen to a large portion of the campus population. This is why I think part of violence prevention is understanding how prevalent violence is on this campus and in other communities, because why prepare for a problem if you don’t believe it’s an actual issue?
The MVP group is still fairly new and looking for ways to impact the atmosphere on campus. But I left the session worrying about how to apply their logic outside of Colgate’s campus. Because, although it’s easy to get Colgate-centric about these conversations, sexual violence and domestic abuse is overly plentiful in the “real world,” and there didn’t seem to be much discussion of how to translate this bystander obligation outside of the Colgate bubble. Some audience members brought up instances of not knowing how to step in when observing spousal abuse or violence against children and how those instances where there are much more significant power dynamics at play effect the bystander’s power to intervene. Because these are instances of violence that need more than a moment of pause, they need immediate response and legal action as well. So, it seemed that the MVP model was only applicable to campus-specific instances of violence where it is still possible to build a “zero tolerance” community. That doesn’t make it irrelevant in the least; it is still important for people to be able to step in when a friend has obviously had a bit too much and might be getting him/her/hirself into a dangerous place. And because MVP is a group that is just beginning on Colgate’s campus and looking for ways to make its mission relevant to the campus community, it makes some sense that this brown bag discussion was very Colgate-focused. But preventing violence necessitates a wider scope, since it is such a widespread issue.
by Che J. Hatter