Taking a Stand

Written by Debbie Epstein, Diversity & Inclusion Manager 

One way to help create a culture where everyone has a common understanding of the standards of appropriate behaviour and behaviour that will not be tolerated, is to become an active bystander.  An active bystander is someone who observes unacceptable behaviour and takes steps to make a difference.  They assess the situation, decide what kind of help, if any might be appropriate, evaluate options and choose a strategy for responding.

This type of action sends a strong signal of solidarity to the person who is on the receiving end of the behaviour, and indicates to both parties, and any witnesses, what you consider to be acceptable conduct.  The behavioural norms can shift, if a core number of people have a common understanding of what is acceptable, as the group effect means any outliers will be discouraged from stepping outside these established norms.  Research, mainly conducted in the US, shows that where comprehensive active bystander training and interventions have been put in place, to help reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and violence on campus amongst students, these have been effective.

So how can we be active bystanders and stand up to inappropriate behaviour that we and others experience?

Key steps to take when assessing potential situations:

  • Is the behaviour unacceptable, does it have the ability to cause offense, make someone feel uncomfortable, awkward or humiliated?
  • Can you play a role?  What are you hoping to achieve, is someone else better placed to step in?
  • What are your options?  See below for some suggestions
  • What are the risks to you and others?  Are they worth taking, how could they be reduced?
  • Should you act, and if so now or later?

Active bystander strategies

Below are some suggested approaches, but there will be others.  It’s important not to put yourself or others at risk through the action you take, so use your judgment and common sense and take advice if needed.  You can find more about each of these strategies here.

Strategies in the Moment:

  • Name or acknowledge an offense
  • Point to the “elephant in the room”
  • Interrupt the behaviour
  • Publicly support an aggrieved person
  • Use body language to show disapproval
  • Use humour (with care)
  • Encourage dialogue
  • Help calm strong feelings
  • Call for help

Strategies after the Fact: 

  • Privately support an upset person
  • Talk privately with the party who has committed the act

King’s Diversity & Inclusion Team has started to adopt the active bystander approach in training that is offered to students, and from September 2017 all students will be encourage to participate in an on-line module which includes a focus on active bystander strategies.  Work is currently being undertaken to assess how to make consistent the reporting, support, policies and practices covering bullying and harassment for staff and students, so that provision builds on the already successful and nationally recognised It Stops Here Campaign.

Content for this posting was taken from here.

Further reading:

http://www1.uwe.ac.uk/bl/research/interventioninitiative.aspx

A Review of Evidence for Bystander Intervention