As colleges nationwide continue to address the issue of sexual assault, Belmont is revamping its bystander intervention program to directly teach students who witness criminal activity how to intervene and to speak up.
Bringing in the Bystander is a program assuming all students and faculty on any college campus are, as the name suggests, bystanders in stepping in against sexual violence.
The program was developed by Prevention Innovations, a research unit within the University of New Hampshire, and “teaches bystanders how to safely intervene in instances where an incident may be occurring or where there may be risk,” according to Prevention Innovation’s website.
“It’s something that’s meant not just for students, it’s meant for the entire campus community,” Belmont’s Coordinator of Security Programs Kayla Jerome said.
On Jan. 27, a Nashville jury found two former Vanderbilt football players guilty of raping a woman while she was unconscious in a dorm on June 3, 2013. In that case, Jerome said, there were several bystanders who could have stepped in, but did not either from fear or because they felt it wasn’t their place to do so.
“We want to counter fear; we want to create a sense of responsibility and how to identify harmful situations,” she said. “Basically we want to teach people how to trust their instincts.”
Belmont is currently using the Green Dot, etc. program for violence prevention training, but anyone implementing that program must be trained and certified by the Green Dot institution in order to instruct others, said Jerome.
Green Dot requires prospective instructors to attend four days and a total of 28 hours of training to be certified, according to their website. Bringing in the Bystander requires either one 90-minute session or two longer sessions totaling in 4.5 hours of training, according to Preventive Innovation’s website.
Jerome said the beauty of Bringing in the Bystander is anybody, be they a student, student leader or faculty, can be trained and train others if it’s what they want. Part of the program’s success hinges on how comfortable and familiar students are with those leading the training.
“You can’t just have a one-all approach,” Jerome said. “It’ll be more meaningful to have Belmont community members handling the training with the students.”
This philosophy goes hand-in-hand with what Chief of Campus Security Pat Cunningham called a “grassroots effort” to introduce a culture of students looking out for each other. Cunningham is working closely with Jerome on rolling out Bringing in the Bystander, and said taking those small steps to shift the campus attitude toward safety is key.
He pointed to Campus Security’s escort system, which his office worked on improving last semester. While there was an increase in the student use of the system, Cunningham said many students still feel it’s unnecessary to bother officers with walking them across campus.
“There seems to be a reluctance from some people saying ‘I don’t want to bother you guys’ or ‘I’m just going from here to there,’” he said.
Cunningham wants to create a culture where it’s second nature for students to walk in groups and utilize the escort system, whether it’s for themselves or a friend who they know is walking after dark.
“This is what we do as a community,” he said. “From the standpoint of deterrents, I think that’s really important. Nashville’s like any other major metropolitan area: there’s crime here. We don’t see much of it at Belmont, and I think one of the ways we can continue to have that success is perception.”
In other words, would-be criminals are less likely to look for opportunity on Belmont’s campus if they know students walk in groups and have a habit of calling in suspicious activity, said Cunningham.
Being an active bystander is also important is because it lines up with Belmont’s Christian identity.
“It’s part of our Christian aspect, how we look out for each other,” he said. “That was in place long before we started calling it ‘bystander intervention,’ but that’s what a Christian community does, we look out for each other.”
Jerome plans to hold the first trial training sessions for Bringing in the Bystander by the end of February. Once she has ample student feedback on how to resolve any issues in the program, the full training will start in earnest around mid-March.
Jerome said that by directly empowering the students with the new program, the entire Belmont community can come to see itself more as one large family of Bruins.
“All it takes is for one person to speak up,” she said. “The more people who speak up, the more the culture changes. We’re not looking for heroes, but you can make a difference whoever you are.”
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