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Health & Wellness Services Division of Student Affairs

How to overcome the bystander effect

How to overcome the bystander effect

While most of us are sympathetic toward helping someone, the bystander effect can prevent us from stepping in. The bystander effect is when a group of people sees a problem or someone in need, but no one does anything to help.

Why don’t we help? One reason why people choose not to help is because they observe and follow what other people are doing. So if everyone is passing by and not paying attention, we conclude that what’s happening isn’t a big deal. After all, no one else looks concerned.

You’ve probably experienced a similar phenomenon in class. The professor asks if there are any questions, and since everyone else looks like they understand, you decide to not ask your question. When we follow social queues from others it becomes easy to make assumptions that are not true.

So what can you do? Next time you see someone who needs help, pay attention to your reaction. You might be tempted to ignore what’s happening because no one else is doing anything. Instead, stop and ask the person who appears to need help if they’re okay.

Another reason why people don’t help is because of the diffusion of responsibility. This is when you assume another person will step in or someone more qualified will help. And when there are more people present, like at a party, the less likely it is someone else will help.

If you notice something like possible symptoms of alcohol poisoning, a couple fighting, or something else that just doesn’t feel right, don’t wait for someone else to step in – take action immediately.

What can you do? Recruit a specific person and ask for their help. Then give that person a specific job like calling 911 or turning down the music.

Overcoming the bystander effect can be difficult, but the solution is to recognize these instinctive responses and decide to help anyway.

If you want to feel more confident in your ability to respond to someone who needs help, sign up for alcohol safety or bystander intervention training.

Violence prevention for graduate students

Violence prevention for graduate students

As a graduate student, you can take an active role to stop violence from happening on our campus. By knowing what your barriers are and what you can do about them, you’ll be ready to make WSU a safer place to live, work, and learn.

Violence prevention for a graduate student will probably be different than it would for an undergraduate. Conversations about violence sometimes focus on social settings like parties where people are drinking, but maybe you’ve seen someone in a professional or academic setting do something hurtful. This could be a faculty member, fellow graduate student, or one of your students.

Gender-based violence and other harmful behavior like harassment and discrimination can come in many different forms and can happen regardless of education or position.

We all experience barriers to taking action when we see something that concerns us. As a graduate or professional student you might’ve felt:

  • Scared of professional retaliation
  • Hesitant because it’s not your business
  • Worried about what others in your department will think if you spoke up
  • Uncertain about who you can talk to
  • Concerned about power dynamics in a relationship (for example, committee chair and student, supervising faculty member and TA or RA, lab partner and you)

So how can you work around these barriers? The answer is to direct, delegate, or distract.

Direct. Do something yourself. If you’re concerned about someone, ask them directly how they’re doing and if you can help. If a lab mate or a student appear to be struggling, ask questions like, “Hey, is everything going okay?” or, “Do you need anything?”

Delegate. Ask someone else for help. Sometimes you aren’t the best person to intervene in a given situation. Asking someone else for help is always an option. Talk with your department chair, a faculty member you trust, or a fellow student.

Concerned about a student under your supervision? Contact the AWARE Network. The AWARE Network allows you to share concerns about a student’s emotional or psychological wellbeing, physical health, or academic performance with colleagues who can help.

Distract. Diffuse the situation by diverting people’s attention. For example, if you see someone treating another person in a way that’s not okay, try to distract from what’s happening. For example, you could chime in and start a conversation about an unrelated topic.

If you or someone you know experiences harassment, discrimination or gender-based violence there are resources available to help.

Want to learn more about how you can prevent violence? Check out our toolkit for faculty and staff and sign up for updates on violence prevention.

Community safety starts with a conversation

Community safety starts with a conversation

Creating a culture of support for survivors of stalking, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault is essential for making our community a safer place.

When you share your knowledge about healthy relationships or how to support a survivor, it creates a ripple effect which improves our community’s well-being.

Plus, hearing about these issues from people we already know and trust is a major factor in changing unhealthy cultural attitudes toward violence.

So how can you start a conversation about violence? Here are some tips to help.

Know your barriers. Personal barriers can prevent us from starting tough conversations. You might be afraid of what others will think of you or feel like you’re not qualified to talk about this important issue. The key is to learn what your personal barriers are and find ways to overcome them.

Watch a movie and discuss it. Next time you watch a movie or TV show with someone, talk about the characters’ relationships – are they healthy or unhealthy? Being able to identify these behaviors in media can help you notice them in real life, either in your own relationship or someone else’s.

Share what you’ve read. Have you read something recently about violence that caught your attention? Talk with friends or family about how it impacted you. Ask them what they think and share your thoughts.

Get active on social media. Follow organizations and individuals who are posting about violence prevention and healthy relationships. Like or share posts from accounts like WSU Coug Health, Alternatives to Violence on the Palouse, and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

If you’re not sure what to share, considering posting a positive story or video about someone who took action to ensure another person’s safety.

Show your support for violence prevention. Stop by our programs and outreach office for a keychain or a sticker for your water bottle! You never know what will spark a conversation.

Don’t forget there are other ways you can help prevent violence. When more Cougs take action, less violence happens in our community!

Cultural norms about sexual assault

The culture we live in shapes how we view issues like sex- and gender-based violence. Cultural norms can perpetuate myths about what violence is, who perpetrates it, and how we respond.

Rape culture is a term used to describe the various ways sexual violence is normalized, condoned, excused, and encouraged by prevailing social practices, attitudes, and behaviors. Examples include:

  • Seeing gender roles as rigid and unchanging. We often see this play out in popular music and movies. Women are often treated like sexual objects, and men are often portrayed as dominant and aggressive.
  • Refusing to believe victims of sexual violence when they come forward
  • Excusing and minimizing men’s violence toward women – and other men – with words like, “boys will be boys”

Because we’re constantly surrounded by these ideas, they can influence our views in ways we may not even realize. But there are small, manageable things everyone can do to help reduce the effects of rape culture.

Examine the media you consume. This doesn’t mean avoiding movies or TV shows that normalize violence (though that is an option). This simply means you can be more aware of the messages they send and think about how they contribute to a culture that supports violence.

Stay informed. Learn more about cultural norms surrounding rape culture by watching documentaries. Start with Miss Representation, a documentary about how women are represented in media. Another good one is The Mask You Live In, which talks about how boys and men navigate a culture with narrow views on masculinity.

Speak your mind. If someone makes a comment that makes you feel uncomfortable or concerned, you have options for responding to that person.

Support victims and survivors. If someone tells you they were sexually assaulted, believe them and let them know they have options.

Small actions make a difference. Sometimes issues like this seem overwhelming, but remember: No one has to do everything, but everyone can do something.

To learn more, request a presentation for your student group on the topic of rape culture.

Get the facts! Violence myths vs. reality

Inaccurate beliefs about sex- and gender-based violence are common. Let’s talk about some of these myths, and more importantly – let’s find out what’s really going on.

Myth: Violence like sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking doesn’t happen that often.

Reality: College students across the country experience violence every day, and many will experience violence before they even get to college.  

Myth: People make bad decisions and put themselves in situations where sexual assault might happen.

Reality: Someone is making a choice to harm another person who is vulnerable (if they’ve been drinking, for example). If you or someone you know experiences sex- and gender-based violence, know it’s not your fault and there are people on this campus and in our community who can help.

Myth: You can’t be victimized by your partner.

Reality: Sexual assault can happen within any relationship, whether people have been together for years or if they’ve just started seeing each other. Sex without consent is sexual assault, even if two people have had consensual sex in the past.

Myth: It’s unlikely that anyone I know would sexually assault someone.

Reality: Anyone, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, or other characteristics, can perpetrate violence. Sometimes they’re our friends, our family, or the people we sit next to in class.

Myth: Most people are sexually assaulted by strangers.

Reality: Sexual assault most often occurs between people who know each other. Situations involving strangers committing sexual assault do happen, but they’re rare on college campuses. Most of the time, sexual assault occurs between people who know each other, and in situations where people feel like they are safe (apartments, residence halls, houses, parties, etc.)

Myth: Violence is inevitable, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.

Reality: Everyone can do something to prevent violence! For example, you can:

Stay tuned this semester to learn more about how you can make our community safer. You can also subscribe to receive email updates about our collaborative prevention efforts.

5 ways to respond to offensive comments

By Nikki Finnestead and Amber Morczek

We’ve all been in situations where we overheard an offensive joke or hurtful comment and wondered how to respond. We often have to overcome personal barriers to taking action, just like we do in other situations that make us uncomfortable or concerned.

When it comes to hurtful language in particular, you might worry that the person didn’t mean to be offensive, that you won’t change anyone’s mind, or that you don’t know enough about the topic to challenge their view.

If you’re confronted with comments that make you feel uncomfortable and you want to speak up, you have many options for how to respond.

  1. Be direct. Speaking up doesn’t always mean taking a dramatic stand. Even something simple like, “Hey, that’s not funny,” or, “That’s not cool,” can have a big impact.
  2. Change the subject. Casually redirecting the conversation can stop offensive language in its tracks. “Hey, I totally bombed that midterm. What about you?” Or, “What are you doing over the holiday break?”
  3. Talk about it later. Even if you freeze in the moment, it’s never too late to make your feelings known. Talk to the person who made the harmful comment the next day, after you’ve had time to reflect on the situation and your response. You can even text them if you feel uncomfortable speaking up in person. There’s no harm in waiting to speak up!
  4. Ask someone else for help. Speak to a faculty member if another student in class said something offensive. Ask a friend for advice on what they would do in the situation.
  5. Take indirect action. If you’re uncomfortable confronting others in response to a specific comment, you can still let people know where you stand. You can post a video on Facebook about an issue you’re passionate about or retweet articles on topics that are important to you. Working to educate yourself and those around you can be more influential than you realize.

Remember: Chances are if you feel uncomfortable, someone else does too. It often takes just one person to step in to give other people permission to do the same.

Supporting health in the Greek community

Following their recent student-led moratorium, Greek leaders reached out to Health & Wellness Services staff for support and resources. Together we’re developing action plans tailored to each individual chapter to address public health concerns like violence, substance abuse, and mental health.

We worked with student leaders from individual chapters to survey their members and assess their attitudes and concerns around these issues. Over 2,900 Greek students responded to our survey on violence, and our survey on substance abuse is in progress.

After the surveys, our next step is to meet with each chapter to review their specific results and provide some initial educational information. So far, we’ve met with 39 chapters about violence prevention and continue to meet about substance abuse and mental health.

Why these specific topics? Research shows alcohol use, drug use, and mental health concerns can negatively affect college students’ academic performance in a variety of ways.

The surveys we conducted this semester show many Greek students are drinking to cope with stress. And according to the 2016 National College Health Assessment, 13.4 percent of Greek students experience academic difficulties due to alcohol.

Moving forward, we will provide each chapter leader with reports on survey results and suggestions for how they can promote healthy behaviors in their chapter.

Take action to prevent violence

group of students

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and WSU students are ready to take action to prevent violence!

According to 2016 climate assessment data, 67 percent of WSU students feel confident in their ability to take action to reduce interpersonal violence. When asked why they would take action, 78 percent said they feel it’s their responsibility to make people in their community safer.

We’re clearly committed to helping one another! But it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to taking concrete action. What can we do to help? How can we make a real difference?

At Health & Wellness Services, we believe that every single one of us can help make our community safer. One person can’t do everything, but we can all do something. Here are some simple ways you can get involved in addressing violence in our community this month (and throughout the rest of the year!)

  1. Read our blog post about how you can support survivors of sexual assault.
  2. Make sure you know WSU’s Executive Policy #15 prohibiting discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.
  3. Get familiar with the confidential and university resources
  4. Request a resource poster or print a message of support to hang in your hall, classroom, or Greek residence.
  5. Add Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse’s 24- hour emergency and support service phone number for survivors of family and sexual violence to your contacts: 1-877-334-2887.
  6. Visit the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs for tools and materials you can personalize and use for social media and events. Materials are available in four different languages!
  7. Check out #SAAM on your social media of choice to find info and resources you can share with friends and family.
  8. Follow Coug Health and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse on Facebook for more info on violence prevention efforts in our community.
  9. Attend a Green Dot bystander training and learn how to safely intervene in a potentially dangerous situation and prevent violence from happening.
  10. Sign up for updates on violence prevention and other health news and resources.

These are just a few ways each of us can take action, and get connected to helpful resources in our community. If we work together, we can put an end to violence and make our campus a safer place.

This post, originally published in April 2016, has been updated with new resources and information.

Cougs support survivors of violence

two students talking

Here at WSU, Cougs help Cougs. Our community cares deeply about supporting and encouraging one another in all areas of our lives. This way of thinking is especially important when it comes to supporting survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. How we respond to survivors can have a huge impact on how they feel about their experience and what actions they take as they heal.

When someone tells you about their experience, it can be incredibly tough to know what to say and do. If you find yourself in that situation, remember what matters most: listen, believe, and support.

Listen. The most important thing you can do is listen without judgment. Even asking too many detailed questions can feel critical. Let the survivor tell their story at their own pace, with the details they feel comfortable providing. For some survivors, sharing their story is an important part of healing. Listening non-judgmentally and offering empathy will help them to feel safe and cared for.

Believe. People rarely make up stories of violence. Believe the survivor. If they say they were hurt, then they were. Assure your friend that it’s not their fault, no matter what happened, and that you believe and want to support them.

Support. Survivors can experience a range of emotions that are all normal. Encourage your friend to access support services, but let them decide if and when they want to use the resources you offer. You can find a comprehensive list of confidential and university resources from the Office of Equal Opportunity. If you’re able to and feel comfortable, you can offer to go with them. Everyone responds differently, and survivors’ needs may change over time. Check in with your friend occasionally and offer support again.

These conversations can be incredibly difficult and emotional. After talking with a friend about their experience with violence, you may want to consider seeking resources or support for yourself as well.

Supporting survivors is just one way Cougs take action against sexual assault and interpersonal violence in our community. Check out this list of simple steps you can take to help prevent violence and make our campus a safer place.

Do you want more information on how to make our campus safer? Sign up to receive news and resources for preventing violence in our community.

This post, originally published in April 2016, has been updated with new resources and information.

Identifying abusive relationships

Identifying abusive relationships

We’re often in a good position to spot abusive behaviors in our friends’ relationships. But some of the signs of unhealthy relationships can look a lot like normal couple interactions. How can you tell the difference?

It can be hard to know for sure whether someone else is in a healthy relationship, but having a foundational understanding of abusive behaviors will help you notice potential warning signs and take action to help your friend if they need it.

First, let’s look at some examples of what normal couples experience.

Jealousy. It’s totally normal to feel a little upset it we see someone else flirting with our partner.

Conflict. It’s true – every relationship has conflict. We all have different perspectives and life experiences, and sometimes we clash.

Spending less time with friends. This is especially common early on in a relationship when you want to spend every waking minute together.

While these are often normal behaviors in a relationship, at what point might they be signs of abuse? Take a closer look. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do those feelings of jealousy pass after both people talk about how they’re feeling? Or do they lead one person to act possessive and controlling over their partner?
  • When conflict arises, do both people have an equal say, and do they both feel comfortable expressing how they truly feel? Or does one person hold back their feelings for fear of upsetting their partner?
  • Do both partners seem happy when they see each other? Do they both light up when they get millions of texts from their partner, or do they get frustrated, or even scared, when they get these messages?
  • Are partners spending all of their time together because they both want to? Or because one person demands it of the other?

Close friends are often in the best position to spot abusive behaviors in someone else’s relationship. The key is to pay attention and if you see or hear something that makes you uncomfortable – it’s time to check in. Start by just asking your friend, “How are things going in your relationship?”

Try and put yourself in your friend’s position. You would probably want someone to step in, offer support, and help you identify potential resources and options. You can be that person for your friend.

Everyone can do something to make our campus a safer place! To learn more about how you can help, sign up for a bystander training.