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Bystander intervention is about the small things we all do for our friends and communities. When we see that someone is experiencing unwanted attention or pressure, we have a variety of ways we can check in: anything from a simple hello to a more creative disruption.
The best interventions happen early on—right when we notice that something is off, and well before a situation escalates. These interventions are easy, subtle, and safe. They help build a community that doesn’t tolerate casual disrespect and disregard, and prevent pressure and disrespect from escalating to coercion and violence.
How you choose to help others depends partly on your personality. To identify your own bystander style—direct, distraction, or stealth—check out each scenario. Keep track of your preferred responses and use them to score your answers.
1. At a house party, you notice someone from your physics class pulling a very drunk person into the bedroom where everyone dumped their coats. Do you…?
A. Point this out to the host.
B. Catch up with your classmate and offer to help with finding the drunk person’s friends or getting medical attention.
C. Follow them into the room, ask if they’ve seen your coat, and describe it at length.
2. One of your classmates makes a rape joke. Some people laugh, while others look uncomfortable. The professor nods along. Do you….?
A. Make a sympathetic face at the uncomfortable classmates and check in with them later.
B. Roll your eyes and say, “Oh yeah, sexual violence is hilarious. But back to our discussion…”
C. Talk to the professor after class and tell them the joke made you and others uncomfortable.
3. At an impromptu res hall party, you notice a guy looking uncomfortable about someone who is getting close and grinding on him. Do you…?
A. Dance toward them and invite some friends to join the circle.
B. “Accidentally” spill your drink on the handsy dancer.
C. Sidle up to the iPod, interrupt the hip-hop playlist, blast the Game of Thrones theme song, and look as surprised as everyone else.
4. At morning practice, one of your teammates seems distracted. When you ask if everything is OK, your teammate shrugs and says, “Yeah, I just had a weird hookup last night.” Do you…?
A. Say, “Weird how? Do you want to talk about it?” Suggest contacting your school’s counseling center, if that seems appropriate.
B. Text your teammate’s best friend and suggest they get lunch together and check in.
C. Make yourself available that day for Frisbee or a run with your teammate in case they want to talk.
5. Your roommate recently started dating Riley, who seems OK but is around an awful lot. Tonight, Riley came over while your roommate was out and hung around waiting. When your roommate finally got home, Riley said, “You’re back late. We should get to bed,” and disappeared into the bedroom. Your roommate stayed in the living room, making no moves to follow Riley. Do you…?
A. Explain loudly that you’re having a personal crisis and need to talk to your roommate about it immediately.
B. Ask your roommate to help you return some library books before midnight and use the walk over to check in about their relationship.
C. Make a mental note to get some professional input on how to talk to your roommate about this new relationship, the next time you’re alone.
6. During a small get-together, your friend Alex, who’s been drinking a lot, gets a text from an ex: wanna come over? Alex hasn’t expressed any interest in getting back together with this ex, so you are surprised when Alex gets up to head over. Do you…?
A. “Accidentally” spill water all over the floor. Ask Alex to help clean up and strike up a conversation about the text.
B. Offer to walk Alex over, with another mutual friend; you’ll talk it through on the way.
C. Hide Alex’s shoes, wait for Alex to notice they’re missing, and exclaim “That’s a sign! Why don’t you stay here?”
7. You and a couple of other Orientation Leaders are having lunch with a group of first-years. Everyone is bantering about their favorite football teams. Quinn is mostly silent and eventually says, “I’m not into sports much.” Jamie laughs and says, “What are you, gay?” Do you…?
A. Say, “Thank you, Quinn! I’m so happy to have an ally at last in this football-fixated world. Perspective is everything.”
B. Say, “We don’t say ‘gay’ disparagingly here,” and promptly change the subject.
C. Check in with Quinn after lunch and ask one of the other Orientation Leaders to have a chat with Jamie.
Your score: What type of bystander are you?
Score your responses according to the table below. Note: There are no right or wrong answers, no better or worse answers. This quiz is about finding your bystander style.
What your score says about you
Score 17–21 This much is clear—you’re a direct interventionist
You’re comfortable changing the trajectory when something’s wrong—by being caring and upfront. Sometimes you call people out, knowing this is OK; you’re doing what seems right.
Score 12–16 What’s going on over there, distraction artist?
You’re great at subtly making space for others and changing the tone of an interaction. You’re skilled at getting silly or creative, and finding elegant ways to shift the mood and message.
Score 7–11 You’re a stealth operator (fine, we’ll keep that quiet)
You’re most comfortable working with other people, finding help, and following up. When you see something concerning, you’re building a team to tackle it or thinking about how you can help.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how you intervene as long as you do something. Checking in early enables you to keep things subtle and avoid putting yourself or others at risk. Creating and maintaining a healthy campus community means being aware of what’s happening around us, and saying and/or doing something when we see a situation that just doesn’t look or feel right.
Fourth-year double major: writing & rhetoric and war, warfare, & the soldier experience at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York
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This quiz incorporates an earlier quiz created by Lee Scriggins, MSW, community substance abuse prevention coordinator at Boulder County Department of Public Health (formerly health communications and program manager at the University of Colorado Boulder), and Teresa Wroe, director of education and prevention/deputy Title IX coordinator at the University of Colorado Boulder.
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