WeSpeak WeStand: Bystander Intervention Training, an optional program designed to train students in identifying and intervening in high-risk situations in order to prevent sexual assault, alcohol abuse, and relationship violence, held two sessions on Thursday, Sept. 4 and Sunday, Sept. 7.
Alysha Warren, Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator and Therapist at the Davidson Health Center, described the value of the training.
“Wesleyan students are helpful by nature and the training equips them with tools to respond to a variety of difficult scenarios,” Warren wrote in an email to The Argus. “With sexual violence, we are training students to interrupt behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that support [rape] culture. The alcohol section trains students to respond to alcohol emergencies, support friends dealing with alcohol abuse, and to deescalate situations before they rise to the nature of an emergency.”
Director of Health Education Tanya Purdy spoke to the impact that Bystander Intervention Training has had on campus.
“We have seen an increase in our reporting rates of sexual assault on campus,” Purdy said. “What we know from research is that most sexual assault goes unreported, so the fact that our reporting rate [has increased] means that people are being linked to resources and support, who before would not have been linked to resources or support.”
The program has seen similar success in mobilizing students to intervene on behalf of those suffering from the ill-effects of alcohol. Purdy commented on the strategy used to teach students effective intervention techniques.
“As far as alcohol goes, the Bystander Intervention Training is comprehensive,” Purdy said. “What we used to see was Public Safety would find someone passed out in the street or stumbling down the road. Now that’s happening less, since friends are calling for the person in need.”
Warren emphasized that although the benefits of Bystander Intervention Training are not immediately apparent, the program has seen substantial progress since its inception.
“Based on feedback from students who have been through the program, intervening in situations is moving towards becoming a campus norm, which is one of the goals of the program,” Warren wrote. “With that said, we still have a lot of work to do. It’s like planting seeds and we’re starting to see some sprouts.”
According to Purdy, the training has been shown to stick with participants due to answers in post-training questionnaires, issued 30 days and 60 days after the training, which contrast with pre-training questionnaires.
“Pre-testing, someone would say, ‘No, I probably wouldn’t do anything in this situation,’ but 60 days out we find they’re saying, ‘Yes, I probably would do something,’” Purdy said.
Though not all students choose to attend the training sessions, Purdy stated that having student leaders participate would allow others to learn by example.
“[Bystander intervention training] absolutely can work if it’s mandatory or required, but something I think that would make it more successful is to have students in leadership roles of power in these organizations trained in bystander intervention, give it a try, change their behavior, start speaking up, start noticing things,” Purdy said. “That’s when you have leading by example.”
Warren agreed that making the training mandatory for students is unnecessary.
“Research indicates that it’s not particularly effective as it relates to long term behavior change,” Warren wrote. “We are encouraging all students to be active and engaged members of the community who through individual behavior change make choices that create safer spaces for everyone.”
Willa Beckman ’15, WeSpeak WeStand Bystander Intervention Training intern at the WesWell office, spoke about the high student involvement displayed at the trainings.
“Attendance was very strong, particularly among freshmen. It was really exciting to see so many frosh involved,” Beckman said.
Despite the University-hosted training, online courses such as Haven and AlcoholEdu remain mandatory for first-years. Purdy spoke to the necessity of multiple platforms for intervention training.
“I think that is how you retain information,” Purdy said. “Not just hearing it once, but having it repeated helps you learn. There are different styles of learning, so somebody might be more likely to process information through an online course, somebody else through a training or a conversation or a theater performance, someone else might be visual, so that’s why we a have a social marketing campaign.”
In the future, the University hopes to continue educating and training students. Purdy emphasized that that the program will be consistently updated based on ongoing research in effective intervention techniques.
“Everybody’s looking for this behavior change, so if somebody finds it, and there’s good research to support it, well, that’s what we are going to do,” Purdy said.