Bystander intervention training continues for faculty, staff, students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With a four-day session scheduled for November, the University is continuing to implement bystander intervention instructor certification training as part of its efforts to combat sexual misconduct and create safe campus environments.

The upcoming session will provide training for staff, faculty and administrators who will then be able to offer the program to students and other staff across the University. The workshops focus on providing participants with the skills to recognize potentially problematic situations, step in and diffuse the situations when appropriate, and seek help when needed.

The Bystander Intervention initiative, which will be officially kicked off in January 2016, is part of a University-wide effort to combat sexual misconduct. In February, President Eric Barron accepted 18 recommendations from the Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, including launching a bystander intervention effort.

“Over the past two years the Bystander Intervention initiative has been preparing a strategic plan with hopes of shifting campus norms around sexual and relationship violence,” said Katie Tenny, Bystander Intervention coordinator. “The vast majority of us are not OK with violence, and yet there continue to be unacceptable rates of it happening to our friends, our peers, our loved ones. We want people to know about options to intervene safely and effectively in these types of situations. Mobilizing peers is just one piece of many efforts that have already been happening at University Park, as well as at Commonwealth campuses.”

The Bystander Intervention training is being done with Green Dot, which provides instructor certification institutes at universities, schools and communities across the country. About 75 faculty, staff and administrators participated in the June program, and 125 are expected to participate in November.

While the initiative is initially focused on sexual misconduct and relationship violence, it will be expanded to include bystander intervention for mental health-related issues, bias-related incidents, and alcohol and drug abuse. It includes offering sessions for students, as well as faculty and staff. Long-term strategic plans also include the introduction of peer-facilitated workshops.

At Penn State Behrend, a presentation following the fall semester’s academic convocation introduced the three D’s of Green Dot — direct, delegate and distract —to more than 1,000 first-year students, giving incoming students the knowledge that they can intervene directly and safely in situations that otherwise might lead to sexual or relationship violence.

“We thought the program had a great deal of potential and would resonate with students,” said Ken Miller, senior director of campus planning and student affairs. "If it prevented one incident of sexual assault or dating violence, then we felt it would be worth the effort to start as soon as possible. Building on the simple premise that as Penn Staters we need to care about each other, Green Dot provides practical training for students, faculty and staff to demonstrate our willingness to look out for one another.”

Miller also serves as the campus committee chair for Green Dot implementation at Penn State Behrend. The college is coordinating a campus-wide launch in January that will include presentations to student organizations, workshops, activities and promotional materials.

“More than just a set of guidelines to follow, bystander intervention is the philosophy that we are all responsible for the safety and well-being of one another."

— Rick Groves, student engagement team member

The student workshops are aimed at mobilizing student leaders and making bystander intervention a cultural norm. Rick Groves, a senior majoring in accounting and a member of the Bystander Intervention student engagement team, said the group is working to establish student interest in the initiative.

“More than just a set of guidelines to follow, bystander intervention is the philosophy that we are all responsible for the safety and well-being of one another,” said Groves, who is president of the Interfraternity Council.

“I am incredibly optimistic about the effectiveness of bystander intervention at Penn State; this success will stem from the fact that the program really works,” Groves said. “As young adults, I think most Penn Staters have witnessed a risky situation where they wanted to intervene, but felt as if they didn’t have the skills to do so. Bystander Intervention provides the confidence and knowledge necessary to safely de-escalate those situations.”

Alexa Pauline Ain, a student and director of outreach for the Association of Residence Halls, said she thinks that by having the tools to respond to situations, students can make a positive impact.

“I believe that more often than not people want to intervene but do not feel it is their place to,” Ain said. “By providing students with strategies to intervene we are taking away their thoughts of ‘I do not know what to do.’ I think students want to help one another and make everyone feel comfortable. This is every student’s school and they have the right to feel safe and respected every day on it.”

Other efforts to lay the groundwork for the full program are already underway at Penn State campuses. At Penn State Abington, students participated in the research-based program, “Nonviolent Sexuality: Making Peace with Passion” in September.

Penn State Lehigh Valley is familiarizing the campus with bystander intervention, including engaging the Human Development and Family Studies classes. Penn State DuBois offered a workshop this semester, Penn State Fayette is offering a Green Dot program in December, and many campuses will be offering workshops in the upcoming months.