From the Daily: Raising the bar

Sunday, November 15, 2015 - 8:07pm

Gov. Rick Snyder recently awarded $500,000 to fund sexual assault prevention initiatives at universities across the state. Under the Campus Sexual Assault Grant Program, the University will receive $20,000 to fund an initiative called Raise the Bar. In partnership with Wolverine Wellness and the Ann Arbor Campus Community Coalition, the University will create a program that teaches employees at local bars how to spot and prevent potential cases of sexual assault. Some might question if bystander intervention should be geared more toward the University community, but the overall idea presents a fresh lens in combatting sexual assault on campus. Targeting bystander intervention programs toward specific populations, such as bar employees, is a necessary step toward decreasing the likelihood of sexual assault in the state, in the Ann Arbor community and at the University.

Raise the Bar is one of many measures in place that attempts to create a culture of bystander intervention against sexual assault on campus. Oftentimes, bystanders find it hard to intervene when another person is involved in a dangerous situation, such as potential sexual assault.  However, if that bystander is an employee, there might be a bigger obligation to keep the environment safe for all customers. Through the nature of their job, staff members at bars are aware of their surroundings, which makes them obvious candidates for stopping and preventing sexual assault. If all staff have to go through an intervention program, the consequences of sexual assault will be made even more apparent and thereby highlight the need to prevent it.

While many sexual assault prevention initiatives are directed at students, Raise the Bar charges members of the Ann Arbor community to assist in keeping students and other community members safe. Bars such as Rick’s American Cafe or Charley's, two that are frequented by University students, are often staffed by both students and non-students. Therefore, sexual assault prevention and awareness knowledge among bar employees varies.

Recently, there has been a lot of attention placed on preventing sexual assault at Greek life events like fraternity parties, but ignoring bars would be a huge oversight. Bars and fraternity parties often have similar atmospheres, and it would be naive to think sexual assault is restricted to this setting. According to a study by the Center for Science in the Public Inerest, students tend to drink more at fraternity parties due to the copious amounts of free alcohol available. However, the study also notes that more students frequent campus bars than fraternity parties. This highlights the importance of bystander training among bartenders at these Ann Arbor establishments.

The University of Iowa and the University of North Carolina are two colleges that have implemented Raise the Bar in their communities. So far, the results have generally been positive. Though there’s a lack of quantitative data, management and employees at several establishments have found the training helpful and would recommend the program to others. In Iowa, Susan Junis, Rape Victim Advocacy Program education coordinator, believes it would be beneficial to tie bystander intervention to a business’ alcohol license. The University and state of Michigan should consider a similar initiative. This would not only incentivize bars to participate in the program, but also implement a uniform bystander intervention education among bar employees across the state.

Bar culture hasn’t always been known for having the safest atmosphere, but programs like Raise the Bar can help change this. Bartenders often act as leaders within a given bar, regulating what is or is not OK in that space. If employees are known for having a strong stance against sexual assault, customers will follow suit. Everyone has the responsibility of preventing sexual assault, and giving people the tools to spot and intervene in such situations can only contribute to a safer environment for all students at the University.