University officials: Bystander intervention efforts work

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 6:43pm

Though violations related to alcohol, drugs and sexual misconduct increased in 2014 over the previous year, data from the University’s Change It Up! workshop indicates that students feel more prepared to intervene in potentially harmful situations after participating in the program.

According to survey data provided to The Michigan Daily by the Office of Student Life, the number of students who “very strongly agree” that they are motivated to intervene in harmful situations rose by 24 percent after completing the Change It Up! program during the 2013-2014 school year.

The survey is based on evaluations of students’ propensity to intervene in harmful situations and responses to what they consider harmful behavior. Those markers were measured before and after participating in the Change It Up! training, which is mandatory for first-year students.

Overall, the total percentage of students who said they agree it is their business to intervene in harmful situations rose by 93.89 percent following the workshop.

The University began implementing Change It Up! programs last year for incoming freshman students.

Will Sherry, director of the Spectrum Center, said the program is an introduction to helping students identify a variety of harmful situations.A number of other programs throughout the year, including Relationship Remix and AlcoholEdu, also aim to teach first-year students aspects of bystander intervention.

Though Sherry said the training spends time teaching students to identify microaggressions, or subtle instances of harm, students also receive training on how to respond to situations involving intoxication and sexual misconduct.

Sherry said the program expanded this fall with pilot programs offered to a handful of incoming graduate programs.

“The Change It Up! program is an introduction to noticing problems and harm going on around you,” Sherry said. “We look to strengthen our connections to the other programs in the first-year experience and that happen throughout the year.”

In 2014, reports of alcohol and drug violations and sexual misconduct have risen over the previous year. In a report released by the Division of Public Safety and Security, on-campus liquor law arrests and citations totaled 254 reports, compared to 202 in 2013. The 155 drug law arrests represented an increase over the previous year’s 114 reports.

Last year, the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center received 44 reports of sexual misconduct, compared to 35 reports filed in 2013.

Though the higher number of violations could be a result of a growing freshman class size and high overall enrollment, the proportion of liquor law violations in residence halls per freshman class has increased from 2012-2014 — meaning reports are increasing regardless of class size.

Erik Wessel, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, said the rise in violations is due to a number of factors, but they do not imply bystander intervention training is unsuccessful.

He pointed to national data released by the White House that showed bystander intervention education is a promising method to reduce harm, and programs like Change It Up! could encourage students to come forward and report instances of harm, like sexual assault.

“As we increase awareness across campus through programs like Change It Up! and Relationship Remix, we are creating a culture and community that understands sexual violence has no place here,” Wessel said in an e-mail.

Sherry said Change It Up! is simply a foundation, and reducing violations and harm will take continued practice with bystander intervention throughout a student’s time at college.

“The goal of the program is not for students to leave and feel like after 90 minutes we are going to see a decrease in all of those violations,” he said. “That is going to take programming that exists beyond Change It Up!”

Sherry said part of Change It Up! training is teaching students that intervention in a situation is not simply a choice between doing something or doing nothing, but can entail identifying other ways to reduce harm. According to Wessel, a potential way to mitigate a harmful situation is to delegate the responsibility to someone else, like law enforcement.

“Ultimately, it is important for students to hear from their peers that we have expectations for each other in this community and part of those expectations is to take action to reduce the potential for harm,” he said. “I believe that students here at Michigan are choosing to lean in to this call to action in increasing numbers.”