Every September, all sophomores in Yale College attend a session of “Bystander Intervention: Breaking the Script of Sexual Violence." The workshop draws on community-focused bystander intervention research1, teaching concrete intervention skills and encouraging all students to make safe, low-level interventions when they encounter troubling sexual or romantic dynamics (see handout). The ultimate goal is to make sexual misconduct less likely and build a more supportive community on campus.
We begin the workshop by screening a short film, “Who Are You?”, which features four possible interventions that could have prevented a sexual assault. Students discuss each of these interventions, and why they are successful. We then shift to a larger discussion: when is it appropriate to intervene, and how might you do so? How might the identities of the people on whom you want to intervene affect your approach?
Students then split into smaller groups to discuss different scenarios in which interventions might be needed, and devise short- and long-term strategies for disruption of these dynamics. The video focuses on party scene interventions, but these scenarios broaden the range of interventions to cover everything from responding to harmful comments to potential cases of intimate partner violence. Each group presents their short- and long-term strategies for intervention to the larger workshop, and we invite others to add or edit their suggestions. We focus on low-level techniques and approaches that include enlisting the help of others, because we know that people will intervene earlier and more often if they can keep the stakes low and casually offer someone an easy out rather than explicitly interrupting an encounter. We often hear about cases where even though nothing was actually amiss, students appreciated that others in the community cared enough to check in and make sure everything was okay.
And that's one of the most heartening things about this workshop: for months afterward, the CCEs see bystander interventions at parties and hear about them in the dining halls. By offering this workshop to sophomores every fall, the CCEs are creating new community norms of low-level intervention and support on behalf of friends and strangers alike.
1. Banyard, Victoria L., Elizabeth G. Plante, and Mary M. Moynihan. “Bystander Education: Bringing a Broader Community Perspective to Sexual Violence Prevention.” Journal of Community Psychology 32, no. 1 (January 2004): 61–79. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcop.10078/full.↩