VIEWPOINT: Commitment to Bystander Intervention

Earlier this year, I spent the night in the emergency room with a close friend. As she went through test after test, other friends and I took turns sitting with her as she alternated between the waiting room and her bed. There, I met another Georgetown student, a sophomore who was there to support a peer. I asked him how he knew the student he was visiting. His response surprised me; he did not know the student, or even his name.

All he knew was that he had seen a first-year student get sick at a party, and so he called Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service and accompanied him to the hospital. This is what bystander intervention looks like. This is what a culture of care looks like.

Last week, the Center for Student Engagement called on more than 600 student leaders to participate in the university’s first bystander intervention training program. While some may view this as an unnecessary program, research shows that empowering students to be active bystanders is essential to tackling campus sexual assault. This educational approach mobilizes pro-social behavior in potential bystanders by providing students with tangible ways to intervene and prevent sexual misconduct.

After participating in bystander intervention programs, students develop increased awareness of risk factors, enabling them to recognize and stop situations that could lead to sexual assault. This training also enables students to become more confident to speak out against behaviors and ideas that support rape culture. Furthermore, such programs offer students the skills to be supportive allies after an assault occurs. This helps create a campus that is survivor-centric and dedicated to combatting sexual assault on an active basis.

The need for this type of programming on Georgetown’s campus could not be clearer. When the university released the results of the first Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey, one statistic immediately stood out: Over half of undergraduates reported witnessing an intoxicated person headed for a sexual encounter. Among those who had witnessed such a situation, three out of four undergraduates reported doing nothing, with many stating they did not intervene because they did not know what to do.

In response to this data, Georgetown purchased the “Bringing in the Bystander” curriculum from the University of New Hampshire. Over the past few years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has conducted rigorous analysis of a number of sexual violence prevention programs. Of these programs, “Bringing in the Bystander” is one of the select few the CDC has designated as “promising.” The program is grounded in the assumption that everyone has a role to play in ending campus sexual assault and seeks to equip students with the tools to intervene.

If the Georgetown community is truly committed to ending sexual assault, then we must strive to create a culture of care. As men and women for others, we can and must do better. More students must speak up when they see something that does not seem right. There are steps we can all take to look after our fellow Hoyas, whether it be asking if a crying stranger is OK or accompanying a peer to the ER. It is up to us to do our part.

It is ultimately up to students to encourage and initiate real change on campus. The CSE has called on over 600 students to attend bystander intervention trainings this fall. At least three student leaders from each organization are expected to participate. Do your part — commit one Sunday to this training. Together, we can show survivors they are not alone. Together, we can move our campus forward.

Olivia Hinerfeld is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. She is Student Co-Chair of the Sexual Misconduct Task Force.

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One Comment

  1. William Angel says:

    The CSE only has five training sessions scheduled with a cap of thirty student leaders per training. These five hour long training sessions will only reach 25% of the 600 students that have been called on to attend training.

    I doubt that a 5 hour training will be substantially more effective than a 2 hour training, and think that the CSE should decrease the length of the training in order to accommodate more sessions and reach more leaders.

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