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Training Better Bystanders To Make College Campuses Safer

The #MeToo era has been one of renewed activism for women’s rights and for the rights of victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment after decades-long accusations have surfaced. College campuses have been no exception. A couple of years before the newest movement took off, Montgomery College started offering evidence-based trainings for students on how to help reduce violence against women and make communities safer. The MC team delivered 31 trainings to roughly 575 students during summer and fall of 2018 alone.

Dr. Bess Vincent

The Bringing in the Bystander training is based on the one developed by the University of New Hampshire. Eight MC employees went through the training in February of 2015 and adapted it to a two-year college setting to present it to students. One of them was Bess Vincent, assistant administrative dean at the College. “The 90-minute training focuses on developing skills to deescalate violence, mostly in cases of sexual assault and violence against women, but can include any kind of unacceptable behavior,” Vincent said.

About 40 employees have since taken the training and now lead the prevention workshops, which seek to establish a community of responsibility to teach bystanders how to intervene safely and effectively in cases where sexual assault may be occurring or where there may be risk. “We can all probably can think of a story or two in which we saw something happen and we didn’t do anything about it. It’s not that you didn’t want to, it’s that maybe that you didn’t know what to do in that moment,” Vincent said. “We know that people are far more likely to do something if they’ve witnessed it happening before and they know what to do, so part of the training is simply about thinking what their options are.

There is a spectrum of actions people can take, and it’s important to acknowledge what those middle pieces are

The workshops walk students through a series of examples such as a date rape at a party, bullying, harassment at the workplace, and domestic violence. “There is a spectrum of actions people can take,” Vincent said, “and it’s important to acknowledge what those middle pieces are. We tend to think, ‘I will either do nothing or I’m going to confront you.’ Neither is very helpful in changing the culture.”

She makes clear that even though the training focuses mostly on men as perpetrators and women as victims, that is not always the case, nor are they always heterosexual: “This spans gender and sexual identity.”

Her data shows the training has proven results of students becoming more aware and knowledgeable, which is why it is referred to as evidence-based. “This program has shown and demonstrated that students learn skills to be prosocial bystanders by completing the training. They’re surveyed and there are knowledge-based changes,” she said.

Faculty members who are interested in having trainers offer the workshop in their class can contact her at angela.dawson@montgomerycollege.edu.

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