Seated in a semi-circle, students in a recent Bystander Intervention training session took turns stating the reasons they were there. Some wanted to be better informed for their work building awareness about sexual and relationship violence. One student was trying to make sense of a personal situation. A few others said they simply wanted to be better community members.

Bystander Intervention poster

Whatever their motivations, hundreds of Colgate students have completed Bystander Intervention training, a program aimed at preventing gender-based violence and creating a community in which individuals look out for each other.

Brought to Colgate last year, the initiative was adopted from Duke University’s PACT (Prevent. Act. Challenge. Teach.) program. Sessions are designed to teach students what it means to be a bystander, what “consent” is and is not, statistics about sexual assaults both nationwide and at Colgate, and about rape culture and myths.

Participants also learn about Colgate’s sexual misconduct policies, and where individuals can report incidents and seek help.

Student groups ranging from residential community leaders, to Link staff, to fraternities, to members of the first-year class have participated in the two-hour training session. Several more student groups have reached out to arrange trainings. To date, 14 student facilitators who applied for the position have participated in the full-day “Train-the-Trainer,” in order to be able to lead Bystander Intervention sessions.

Videos, discussions, and role playing help students to put themselves in the shoes of bystanders in various scenarios that they might encounter while at Colgate. In doing so, students are able to ask questions, raise concerns, and think through how they might intervene as active bystanders in a real incident.

They learn creative methods to prevent a sexual assault, such as asking an employee of an establishment to talk to the potential perpetrator, creating a distraction that allows the vulnerable person to escape, or creating an excuse to pull a friend out of a situation. The facilitators also address heteronormativity and how gender, race, and sexual orientation factor into where and how people might intervene.

“Bystander Intervention teaches people how to communicate their agency, maintain others’ agency, and strengthen our community,” explained Jessie Sullivan ’16, one of the students who started Colgate’s program. “Bystander Intervention training is just another step to ensure the health and safety of our community.”

“I’ve known too many people who have been affected by sexual assault,” said Rosie Tootell ’16, who works as the Bystander Intervention intern, “and I hope that this program can change that.”