Bystander intervention shows students how and when to take action

Tragic events such as those at Penn State may draw national attention, but the resulting “someone should have done something” chatter raises an important point about difficult encounters in everyday life.

Just about everyone has been there.

The mere mention of bystander intervention is enough to raise uncomfortable questions in the minds of most. Have I ignored situations that called for action? Do I avoid them? How would I know what to do?

Stacie Leach, a graduate student at Northern Arizona University, wants people to have answers to those questions. In particular, she’s working with NAU students through the Take a Stand program, which is offered through the university’s Health Promotions office.

“I want to enable and empower students to become active bystanders by giving them things to say or do in potentially dangerous situations,” Leach said.

That doesn’t mean students must put themselves in danger or try to be a hero. Instead, Leach said, the program entails a series of steps to observe, gather information and decide if intervention is appropriate—and if it is, how to take action.

The situation doesn’t need to be one of imminent violence. In fact, the program’s training materials include a scenario in which a student encourages a friend to do something about the friend’s alcohol abuse. Intervention situations also may involve hazing, sexual assault, physical abuse, discrimination and a host of other issues.

“One person can make a difference,” Leach said. “I’m very optimistic about that.”

Leach, who is in the educational leadership/higher education master’s program, spent about a year researching intervention programs. She based Take a Stand on the best-practice program Step Up that is used on the University of Arizona campus. So far, she said, students at NAU have responded enthusiastically to the three two-hour training sessions she’s held this semester.

One of them, sophomore Kevin Wright, admits that he’s been in situations where intervention would have been appropriate, but “I hesitated to get involved. I honestly did not know what to do besides call the police.”

After going through the training, Wright feels more prepared.

“If I feel that the situation seems like a problem, I will go with my gut feeling and get involved,” he said. “According to the training, if I interpret the situation as a problem, then I would assume personal responsibility and intervene.”

Wright said that he’s now more aware of his surroundings and feels that Take a Stand will help him in his roles as a resident assistant, peer adviser and student adviser.

“I could see that if more and more students were aware of this,” Wright said, “then there would not be as much worry about what may happen on a college campus or anywhere else in everyday life.”