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Intervention Experts

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Mel Alvar, Got Your Back! UMD program participant
Mel Alvar, Got Your Back! UMD program participant

Training the Campus Community in Bystander Intervention

Got Your Back! UMD is a bystander intervention program that encourages UMD Bulldogs to be alert and notice ‘events’. The program's seminars deliver tools and strategies that support safe and effective intervention in stressful situations. It is based upon the University of Arizona’s Step UP! Bystander Intervention program, which was created in 2010 to address potential behavioral issues both on-campus and off. What do you do when a friend is struggling with school, a student is peer-pressured to drink at a party, or there is conflict between relationship partners?

Despite these scenarios coming up relatively often in everyday life, many people fall victim to the bystander effect. The bystander effect (also known as bystander apathy) is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals do not help a victim when other people are present. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.

The program was very successful, and prompted similar programs at campuses across the country. In Spring of 2013, the program was applied to the UMD campus. UMD Equity Education and Diversity Funds sponsored a "Train the Trainer" webinar for 33 students, staff and faculty, representing 22 campus departments and students organizations.

Health Services Community Program Specialist Dori Decker found out about the program and believed it would be a great fit for UMD. “When we introduced Got Your Back! UMD this fall, Health Services had already been teaching bystander intervention techniques in our alcohol harm reduction and sexual assault prevention presentations.” Peer Health Educator student group member Michell Sones said. “It just made sense to apply it on a wider scale.”

Bystander intervention is applicable in many areas of everyday life. Cody Lund, also a Peer Health Educator, likes bystander intervention’s wide range of appeal. “I like it as a policy because it is so generally helpful in everyday life. It applies to everyone, you can always help somebody.”

Decker knows that students want to help. Many just do not know how. “From what we have learned through questionnaires and clicker questions during presentations, students want to intervene. The biggest barrier is not knowing the options for approaching the situation. The intention of our workshops is to deliver some tools for direct and indirect intervention that could be applied to different situations.”

Health Services has offered a handful of seminars throughout the year that have educated students in effective bystander intervention techniques. Some of the most important are also the most obvious.

"A big one is being aware of your surroundings," said Mel Alvar, a UMD graduate who participated in the Train the Trainer presentation. "It is hard to step in to resolve a scenario when you don't know what is happening."

"Another thing to keep in mind," elaborated Lund, "is that there is more than one way to help resolve a problem. If you are unwilling or unable to do so personally, or the situation is too dangerous, contact someone who can really help."

Students interested in attending a Got Your Back! UMD seminar, or students willing to share an experience with bystander intervention should visit the Got Your Back! UMD webpage.

Written by Zach Lunderberg, Mar. 2014


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