Bystander-intervention program helps students recognize, combat sexual assault
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This article is the third part of an ongoing series of articles outlining specific initiatives of Central Student Government on campus.
The Bystander Intervention and Community Engagement program is designed to engage students by informing them about sexual misconduct and providing them with tools and strategies to address the issue.
LSA sophomore Samantha Kennedy, co-coordinator at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, stressed the importance of this program in highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, as well as providing students with tools to address these situations.
“Bystander Intervention is a form of preventative work that focuses on secondary prevention — that means we are acknowledging that sexual misconduct unfortunately still exists on campus and still occurs in the majority of spaces,” she said. “We want to give communities that we work with the tools to recognize a potentially harmful situation and step in and take action.”
Public Policy senior Emma Zorfass, BICE co-coordinator, noted that while freshmen receive information and training within their initial few months at the University of Michigan, those conversations dwindle as they move forward in their college careers. Zorfass said this consistency is something SAPAC works to address, and BICE helps reach students through other communities they’re involved in.
“We’re really working on how to reach organizations and reach students later on in their careers,” Zorfass said. “For example, U of M has leading programs for incoming freshman — they have Haven even before they step on campus, they have Relationship Remix in the first couple weeks of freshman year and they have Change it Up within the first couple months. But beyond that, there’s no uniform programming for upperclassmen. So one way to reach upperclassmen is through the communities that they’re involved in.”
In December, Central Student Government instituted a new policy mandating all student groups seeking funding upward of $1,000 to send two authorized signers to training held in conjunction with Wolverine Wellness. As of February, CSG statistics showed 216 students from more than 100 organizations had attended a session.
“We start with an overview of what sexual misconduct looks like, and what it encompasses because it is an umbrella term that does encompass various forms of sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence and sexual harassment,” Kennedy said. “We talk about data from the campus-climate survey to make the numbers that we always hear about in the media more real. Then we move into some tangible bystander-intervention tools and different strategies and methods for noticing and interpreting pretty harmful situations.”
Though the workshops are attended by up to 20 representatives from different student organizations, Kennedy said BICE attempts to keep its scenarios general and practical enough to be applicable to everyone.
“We try to make (mock scenarios) as specific as possible to the communities we work with, and try talking about scenarios that maybe happened at their last house party, or something they see in their meetings,” Kennedy said. “We try to keep the scenarios pretty general, but we hope that they can feel very real and be situations that students can actually find themselves in.”
Zorfass also emphasized because this is only a pilot program, student feedback is very important to the group.
“One of the committees within the Bystander intervention and Community Engagement program has been tasked with going through data (from feedback forms and surveys) and making their own evaluations and recommendations going forward,” Zorfass said.
LSA sophomore Ellen Paquet hasn't partaken it the program yet, but praised it all the same. She said it’s very important to reach upperclassmen as well as freshmen, as training of this nature needs constant reinforcement to make an impact.
“I think there’s definitely validity in this program- though everyone has to attend freshman year, there are still some people who don’t and it’s unfortunately the sort of training that does wear off, especially because you’re going through so many changes freshman year and you’re being thrown into this completely different culture.” Paquet said. “It’s easy to forget the skills that you’ve gained from these types of workshops and interventions. I like that they’re finding new ways to ensure that people get adequate training in order to make the school safer and more welcoming overall.”