Bystander Intervention Initiative Comes to Montclair State

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Published October 6, 2015
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The Montclarion
Campus Students

New training program teaches students how to respond to incidents.
Photo courtesy of Mike Peters.

Though we’ve been taught from a young age to “stand up for ourselves” and “treat others how we would like to be treated,” we rarely hear teachers and administrators telling us to “look out for those around you.” In such regard, we as students have become conditioned to fall into a certain sense of unknowing when it comes to the events happening right in front of us.

However, with the help of the Division of Student Development and Campus Life, a new initiative implemented this fall semester will work to change students’ perspective on the world around them. With the slogan “This is My Campus,” the campaign represents the mission of the Bystander Intervention Program: for students to have a say in the everyday happenings of the university they attend through their own actions.

A bystander is anyone that’s actually observing something happening. It can be something good [or] something bad. [A bystander] is not actively involved, but [watches] an incident occur. – Associate Dean of Students, Shannon Gary

In order to be effective, the campaign begins by outlining several basic definitions the campus community should be aware of. According to Dr. Shannon Gary, Associate Dean of Students and a creator of the program, “a bystander is anyone that’s actually observing something happening. It can be something good [or] something bad. [A bystander] is not actively involved, but [watches] an incident occur.”

In other words, a bystander could be a friend, classmate, teammate, coworker, teacher, family member or stranger who is aware of or observes situations and interactions that could be potentially dangerous or problematic to others or even the campus community as a whole. Such events could range from witnessing a student making negative comments towards another and not speaking up on their behalf or seeing a fellow resident breaking an item within a residence hall and not bringing the damage to the attention of others.

In accordance with the program’s title, Gary said, “bystander intervention is when you’re that person observing and you see a situation that is harmful in some way, shape or form – either physically, emotionally, spiritually – and you intervene through some method to stop that event from going further or even starting.”

Importantly, the definition itself explicitly mentions the type of action as the role of a bystander can often vary from one event to another – either directly or indirectly. For instance, when observing an individual on campus taking an item that does not belong to him/her, a bystander can directly take action by confronting the individual or indirectly by calling University

Police to report the theft. However, in this sort of situation, the second may be the more preferable and safe option whereas, other times, it may be the opposite.

I feel that this training on campus will educate our community on ways to help limit crime on campus and to better help victims of these crimes. – Rebecca Bohmer, Senior

When giving her Opening Day Address, President Cole mentioned the novel launch of the program this semester and how it would benefit the Montclair State community. “The goal of the MSU Bystander Intervention Program is to educate the campus about situations that may require bystander intervention, increase feelings of responsibility to take action and empower people to act both individually and collectively,” said Cole.“The mission of the program is to engage students actively in recognizing those situations that have the potential to injure their fellow students physically or psychologically or damage the University and to encourage them to accept responsibility to take appropriate action when those situations are observed.”

As Cole noted, most events do not go unnoticed by the over 20,000 members of the campus community. Whether they are residential or commuter students, these individuals are the ones with the most knowledge of the happenings at Montclair State. Between gossip and social media outlets, there is no doubt the news of an event spreads among the student body in a matter of seconds.
In her speech, Cole went on to mention that “one of the things that our really excellent university police and student affairs professionals will [say] is that it is almost always the case that innocent bystanders saw or knew about [unacceptable interpersonal behavior or vandalism] and did not tell or seek to intervene in appropriate ways.”

The mission of the program is to engage students actively in recognizing those situations that have the potential to injure their fellow students physically or psychologically or damage the University and to encourage them to accept responsibility to take appropriate action when those situations are observed. – President Susan Cole.

With this being true, the launch of the Bystander Intervention Program on behalf of the Division of Student Development and Campus Life could not come at a better time. Initially introduced towards the end of the spring semester, peer facilitators were selected to help raise awareness of bystander intervention among other students.

According to Gary, it is his hope that the program will become a student-to-student driven campaign. “We hope to reach out to student organizations, Greek organizations, athletic teams and residence halls. The more we get [the word] out, the more we hope that [students] will spread the word and begin to step in and do things that will help their fellow Red Hawks – that, when they see something going in the wrong direction or something going awry, that they’re not just going to stand and watch, but they’re actually going to stand and do something.”

In one of the first sessions of the program, those same peer facilitators worked to introduce the campaign to other campus leaders during this summer’s training. Listening to an informational presentation given by Gary, the students left with a better understanding of the role a bystander plays in the Montclair State community and how to act in situations, should they arise before their eyes.

This lesson about the collective responsibility citizens have to protect their community is an extremely difficult one to teach. So, your help in reinforcing the idea that we all share a responsibility to each other and to the university will be appreciated. – President Susan Cole.

Rebecca Bohmer, a senior Psychology major who attended Gary’s session as part of training, mentioned that the event helped her recognize the importance of bystander intervention on campus. “It is not uncommon for bystanders to just watch a crime, thinking someone else will be the person to put an end to it or even to view a crime as entertainment, such as in public fights,” said Bohmer. “I feel that this training on campus will educate our community on ways to help limit crime on campus and to better help victims of these crimes.”

Overall, she as well as other administrators on campus have come to feel as though the action of a bystander has become crucial at the university level and certainly a role on which the campus community should be more informed.

“This lesson about the collective responsibility citizens have to protect their community is an extremely difficult one to teach,” said Cole. “So, your help in reinforcing the idea that we all share a responsibility to each other and to the university will be appreciated.”

For more information on becoming involved in the Bystander Intervention campaign or becoming a peer facilitator, visit the program’s page on HawkSync.

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