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Posted at 01:17 PM ET, 11/07/2011

Active bystanders: Colleges teach students how to help


You see a drunken student wandering toward his car with keys in hand. You hear two colleagues loudly arguing in the hallway. Your friend says her boyfriend monitors her text messages.

What do you do?

In the moment, it’s easy to freeze and do nothing — especially if everyone around you is also frozen. I wrote about the “bystander effect” in Sunday’s Outlook section, after reading that Apple Store employees in Maryland had overheard a murder at the Lululemon Athletica store next door but did not call police.


Brittany Norwood was convicted last week of stabbing and beating Jayna Murray to death at the Lululemon store in Bethesda. At the Apple Store next door, employees heard screams but did not alert authorities. (Michael Temchine - For The Washingon Post)

Many colleges are teaching students what they should do in emergency situations, so they can more quickly react when something happens. The University of Arizona developed the Step UP! program after determining that 90 percent of risky situations that students encounter (especially alcohol abuse, hazing, eating disorders, sexual assault and discrimination) could have been avoided if bystanders had intervened.

At Virginia Tech, a grass-roots group started by a psychology professor and a group of students urges people to “actively care” about each other at all time. The movement was started in the aftermath of the April 16, 2007, campus shooting in which a student gunman killed 32 people and wounded 25 others.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosts “Active Bystander” training sessions and posts scenarios online. The program also came up with these six steps to bystander action :

1) Notice an occurrence out of the ordinary.

2) Decide “in your gut” that something is amiss or unacceptable.

3) Ask yourself, “Could I play a role here?” If no one intervenes, what will likely happen? Is someone else better placed to respond? What would be my purpose in responding?

4) Assess your options for giving help (See Active Bystander Strategies).

5) Determine the potential risks of taking action. Are there risks to myself? (See Why Bystanders Don't Act) Are there risks to others (e.g. potential retaliation against person being "helped")? Is there a low-risk option? How could I reduce risks? Is there more information I can get to better assess the situation?

6) Decide whether to act, at the time or later.

(MIT adopted these strategies from Darley & Latane’s Bystander Intervention Model.)

Does your school train students, professors and others on how to be active bystanders? Tell me about your programs in the comments section below.

By  |  01:17 PM ET, 11/07/2011

 
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