NU Bystander Intervention training plans to encourage bystanders to act


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

NU Bystander Intervention training aims to equip trainees to be confident and active bystanders.

Astry Rodriguez, Reporter

Northwestern Bystander Intervention is hosting training sessions during Winter Quarter to help students, faculty and staff become confident bystanders who are ready to intervene in emotionally, verbally and physically harmful situations.

The goal of the initiative is to reduce past, immediate and future harm. The training provides an individual toolkit with five strategies of intervention: direct, distract, delay, document and delegate. 

The training also presents a strategy to promote collaboration and hold community members accountable for the safety of others, according to Qiu Fogarty, assistant director of social justice education.

“What we’re talking about is how do we create a culture shift on campus that allows for us to shift our norms … to a space where violence is no longer able to happen because of the values we hold as a community,” Fogarty said.

Not only do the sessions address sexual and relationship violence, stalking and harassment but they also prepare participants to respond to racial transgressions and microaggressions. The curriculum involves facilitated conversations, presentations and example scenario practices. 

The training begins with the individual, emphasizing the importance of understanding personal identity. Trainees unpack the roles interpersonal experiences and identities play in if, how and when bystanders should intervene.

Saed Hill, assistant director of prevention and masculine engagement, said acknowledging interpersonal differences impacts whether individuals empathize with the feelings of others. 

“We may not even realize that people who are different than us may be experiencing the same situation (we are experiencing) vastly differently because of their identities,” Hill said. “For example, as a cis man … I may not even realize what comments might be deemed as sexist.”

Hill also mentioned technology and other common items can distract people from the harmful situations happening around them. 

Fogarty said acknowledging personal identity can be an asset to catalyze conflict intervention. 

“We try to also give folks some space to reflect on how they could leverage their identity, specifically if they might have power in an identity they hold,” Fogarty said. “How can they use some of that (identity) to help create more space for folks?”

While participants are taught the indicators of potential harm to look for, including body language, fear sometimes prevents intervention. 

There are no requirements for participating in the initial baseline training session, which generally runs for 90 minutes. While there is limited space for student training this quarter, this is expected to change come spring, and students can email the social justice office to ask for the recorded training. 

According to Garrett Evangelical second-year Grace Harrison, a graduate assistant for bystander intervention training, the program creates a “culture of care” that gives participants the confidence to potentially intervene in future situations. 

“It comes down to creating a safe place for everybody to thrive as their own unique, authentic selves,” Harrison said. 

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