Davidson is expanding its ongoing efforts to prevent sexual misconduct with a new program aimed at educating and empowering the bystander – that is, the person who might become aware of, but not directly involved in, a potentially dangerous situation. While the college has always worked diligently to provide a safe environment for its students and has a strict no-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct, this year it is implementing the bystander education program as a way to emphasize community responsibility in fostering a safe, caring, campus environment.
National data from the Department of Justice indicates that 1 in 5 college women will experience attempted or completed rape while in college, and 6.1 percent of men will experience attempted or completed rape while in college. Research also shows that the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by a small handful of people, but there are often many people who are indirectly involved, either as enablers or bystanders, and educating those bystanders on what to look for and ways to intervene is one of the most effective methods for preventing sexual assault.
The incidence of sexual assault on college campuses lately has drawn much local and national attention, including the September launch of the nationwide "It's on Us" campaign, which aims to engage college students and other members of campus communities in preventing sexual assault. Already nearly 200 colleges and universities, including Davidson, have joined the initiative, as well as other athletic and collegiate organizations and companies.
While it is, at its heart, a bystander intervention campaign, "It's on Us" has some significant shortcomings, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Jason Shaffer said – the most significant being its lack of education and skills training to move awareness to action.
"It assumes the only barrier to bystander intervention is an individual's willingness to do something," Shaffer said, but that often is not the case. Rather, bystanders want to do something, but lack the education and tools needed to intervene appropriately when they recognize a potentially dangerous situation, he said.
And that sort of bystander education is at the forefront of Davidson's new initiative, aimed at educating and empowering the bystander so that he or she feels responsible and able to intervene.
The college selected the University of New Hampshire-based program Bringing in the Bystander because of its proven effectiveness and flexible curriculum, Associate Dean of Students Kathy Bray said.
"What we liked about this program is it's research-based, and it's been around long enough they've been able to assess its effectiveness," Bray said. "Also, it offers some degree of flexibility to adapt the training to be most effective within our individual campus culture."
Research shows that bystander intervention is one of the most effective tools students can use to prevent sexual misconduct, she said. That intervention includes working to maintain a campus culture that does not tolerate derogatory, violent or inappropriate actions, language or comments.
"I think this is the perfect program to do here at Davidson," Shaffer said. "We have a strong sense of community and an ethos of care," both of which form a strong foundation for this sort of training.
The first step in the bystander education program was to train the trainers – that is, to train a select group of students, faculty and staff members who will then commit to lead training sessions for others in the campus community.
More than 30 people attended an 8-hour "train the trainer" session in September. The trainees included many student leaders from different areas of campus, College President Carol Quillen, Chief of Campus Police Todd Sigler, Director of Auxiliary Services Richard Terry, among other staff and faculty members.
"It was nice having students with such different interests and types of involvement on campus there, as well as the campus police and the other staff and faculty members, because they could answer questions and give different perspectives," Abby Peoples '15 said. She is a Student Health Advisor and president of Turner Eating House, an all-female social and community service organization on campus.
Bray and College Health Educator Georgia Ringle selected individuals for the inaugural cadre of trainers based on their expressed interest in the student experience and their commitment to the integrity of the campus environment, Bray said.
"This issue is something the college needs to continue to pay attention to and be better prepared for at all levels," said Professor of Biology Dave Wessner, one of the faculty members trained to lead bystander education sessions. In addition to teaching, he serves as a faculty advisor to Warner Hall eating house.
"I don't think there should be such a disconnect between the social and academic aspects of campus life," he said. "The students are living here. I want them to know that we [faculty members] are here for them, that we care about their overall experience here," he said.
The training combined statistics and information about sexual assault on college campuses with exercises and activities that helped participants realize common misconceptions about offenders and victims, as well as the roles different individuals play in enabling or preventing a sexual assault.
"The training helped me find ways to frame this issue – an issue that I'm already passionate about – for people who may not know a lot about it and to make them feel it's their responsibility to do something," Peoples said.
"It was so great to be a part of that group," Robert Hagerty '15 said. He is a freshman Hall Counselor, a Student Solicitor on the Honor Council, president of the Rape Awareness Committee and serves on the judicial board of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
"It was positive, educational and really powerful," he said. At one point, the group watched excerpts of "What Would You Do" videos, in which actors stage scenes in public and film bystanders' responses. "We saw how different demographics react differently to situations," he said. "That was eye opening."
Beginning this month, the student, faculty and staff trainers will host 1.5-hour bystander intervention training sessions, with five sessions scheduled over the next two months. Pairs of trainers – each with one student and one staff or faculty member – will host open sessions for interested students, faculty and staff members at various locations on campus.
"What we want is not just for a potential victim's friend to step in; what we want is for the random peer who looks at a situation and says it isn't right to feel responsible and empowered to take action," Shaffer said. And that empowerment comes from training and information.
"I think Davidson has a great community of people who care about each other," Peoples said. "Knowing there are people you can bring into a situation to help can empower them."
The Bringing in the Bystander training complements the information shared during new student orientation, during which first-year students watch a series of vignettes performed by upper classmen that emphasize the importance of fostering a "community of respect." The skits cover topics such as substance abuse, sexual misconduct and the experience of coming out in college, among others.
Students who participate in bystander training will learn new information, while also reviewing and reinforcing some of the information they received during orientation as it relates to sexual misconduct and community responsibility.
"I'm thrilled we're bringing this program here because I know that Davidson students are such good people and they want to do the right thing, and they are troubled when they see something happening that isn't right," Bray said. "I'm excited because [with this training] we can provide the information they need to act on their conscience."