On campuses countrywide, sexual assault, relationship violence, and substance abuse have become tragically commonplace. Released this semester, the 2015 We Speak We Stand poster campaign aims to address this problem by instilling a sense of confidence in the student body and encouraging students to intervene actively in situations of abuse and harassment.
Established four years ago by Director of Health Educaion Tanya Purdy and Sexual Assual Resource Coordinator Alysha Warren, We Speak We Stand serves as the University’s primary group for bystander intervention awareness. On campus, the program has made its presence known most prominently through the theatrical piece held annually at the orientation for first-year and transfer students. However, as highlighted by We Speak We Stand intern Willa Beckman ’15, the group has also made a significant impact through its regular bystander intervention workshops. Open to all students and campus organizations, these classes are intended to educate individuals on situations that may be harmful to the campus environment and how individuals, through simple actions, can prevent such situations from getting out of hand.
“We Speak We Stand holds ongoing three-hour workshops that equip all individuals with the skills they need to intervene effectively and keep our community safe,” Beckman said. “The workshop is divided into three sections: bystander intervention skills, bystander intervention for sexual assault and relationship violence, and bystander intervention for alcohol use. These workshops can also be requested by student groups, athletic teams, and Greek life.”
Although these workshops have undoubtedly affected many students, their three-hour duration has hindered the group’s ability to spread this message to the broadest audience possible. By expressing the information provided in the workshops in the form of short and reassuring phrases, the group’s new posters have emerged to ammeliorate this problem. As Samantha Hellberg ’17, one of WesWell’s Peer Health Advocates (PHAs), explained, this concise format is more conducive to Wesleyan students and their overly packed schedules.
“Our training is super awesome and I would recommend anyone come to it, but, inevitably, getting Wesleyan students somewhere for three hours straight is a huge challenge,” Hellberg said. “We all do so many things. But a poster that has an immediate strategy takes two minutes or less to read.”
According to Hellberg, this goal of communicating information in a more succinct manner is nearly identical to the aim of the group’s educational social marketing campaigns released in previous years.
“[Past campaigns] have all been motivated to be somewhat accessible,” Hellberg said. “A lot of the campaigning we do involves breaking down some of the intervention strategies we have in our training, so these really brief points that are really important and succinct and can help people.”
All featuring student-created strategies and examples, the posters released by WesWell both in the past and present appear unimposing. Essentially, this format contrasts with the approaches of other bystander intervention programs that attempt to incite action by playing to students’ fears. Hellberg explained that this friendlier approach is ultimately more effective in motivating peers to prevent conflict on the Wesleyan campus.
“I think [the posters] make us more approachable,” Hellberg said. “We really want a stronger community, and I think it’s a really great approach instead of victim blaming and other strategies geared at fear and at things that historically just don’t work. We want students to feel empowered, to feel like there is something you can do, and it’s not necessarily going to be difficult.”
Although the current campaign bears many similarities to the ones that preceded it in terms of its accessibility, it is nevertheless unique in its attractive design. Each features a detailed portrait of a volunteer student along with a simple tip and quote offered by the pictured student. According to Beckman, this new, visually pleasing aesthetic has been successful in catching the attention of a greater number of students.
“We had a similar educational social marketing campaign last year,” Beckman said. “This year we contacted an artist who is also a Peer Health Advocate and she designed all the posters to make them a bit more attractive, and we are very happy with the results. Generally bystander intervention is more known on campus than it ever has been previously.”
The campaign also distinguishes itself through its use of social media. Hellberg’s role in the project has been to expose the new posters to a wider audience of students. In doing so, she has gone beyond the traditional publicity techniques of hardcopy posters and stickers and has instead endeavored to take advantage of highly trafficked Internet pages such as Wesleying.
“I think [the project] is unique in its technological aspect,” she said. “This is the first campaign to my knowledge…to really try to collaborate with other groups in that way to get more of a social media presence. Bystander intervention does have a Facebook page, but it is low-traffic compared to other student organizations’.
The decision to launch the campaign into cyberspace was also an attempt to be more in the line with the habits and tendencies of the collegiate lifestyle.
“I think it’s useful to have something right in front of you on Facebook or on Twitter or Wesleying,” Hellberg said. “Those are ways that can reach students so quickly and be more in your face than a poster. When you walk through Usdan and you see a hundred posters, you’re not really stopping to look at them, but when you’re scrolling [on the Internet] everything jumps out at you a little bit more.”
The posters are particularly effective in portraying the wide breadth of actions individuals can take to positively impact the campus community.
“I think it’s important that people know that there are many ways to intervene,” Hellberg said. “Fear makes people want to avoid situations, which is not realistic. You’re going to be in situations in your lifetime that are uncomfortable or difficult that you’re going to want to do something about, and I think just being able to have a breadth of options and figure out what works for you and feels best is really great when it comes to intervening.”
Hellberg also noted that the campaign, with its incorporation of student-produced tips, is equally important in overturning the misconceptions that intervention is an imposing task and, furthermore, that only monumental conflicts require the interference of others. This approach, she explained, allows students to recognize that dealing with seemingly insignificant issues ultimately works to prevent the critical situations from taking place.
“[Intervention] is made out to be this big thing, like some huge fight is happening and someone has to stand up right in the middle of it and shut it down,” she said. “But we intervene all the time.If you’ve ever had a friend who’s said something that’s made you uncomfortable, and you spoke up and gave that person an opportunity to reflect, you intervened. Even if you’ve told your friend, ‘Nah. I think you’ve had too much to drink. Have a glass of water,’ you prevented them from potentially having alcohol poisoning or having to be hospitalized. Every time you intervene in a little situation, I think it does create a better community.”
We Speak We Stand’s posters continue the other student-driven campaigns the group has launched over the course of the year. Hellberg discussed the group’s first-semester activity, in which volunteer students took headshots with hand-written statements proclaiming why they intervene. This project, she said, dealt primarily with motivations for intervening and acted as the perfect introduction to the more concrete strategies released through the current poster campaign.
In terms of future projects, Hellberg also expressed the group’s intention to release a short film featuring WesWell’s strategies interwoven with clips of students discussing their own experiences with intervention. We Speak We Stand hopes this video project, by tying together all the group’s teachings into a compact package, will bring the work they’ve completed this year to a successful culmination and empower students to intervene actively in harmful situations.
“This is always my takeaway: always doing something is better than not doing something,” Hellberg said. “Everyone has someone that they care about more than anyone else in the world, and that person that you’re intervening to help might not be that person to you, but it’s important to just remember that, for someone else, that’s their person. It always means something to someone when you help.”