Revamped OBI Promotes Awareness, Safety

This article is part of the Review’s Student Senate column. In an effort to increase communication and transparency, student senators will provide personal perspectives on recent events on campus and in the community.

My road to Student Senate was unconventional, to say the least. Within the first week of my freshman year, my friends nominated me — jokingly — as a candidate for Senate. In a moment of impulse, I decided to run.

I am now completing my fifth consecutive semester as a student senator. While Student Senate has brought me many things — such as an income, close friendships, and emailing skills — what I value most is the passion it gave me for Title IX work.

After that fateful first semester, I attended a local student government conference at The College of Wooster with a few other Oberlin senators. When we broke off into “topic rooms” for discussion, I saw that there was a room dedicated to addressing sexual assault on campus and was drawn into the conversation. During the discussion, a student mentioned that her school had created a program designed to provide confidential student responders and supporters for those who had experienced sexual assault. This program featured a 24/7 hotline for students to call whenever they needed, which allowed students to have a confidential peer resource at any time of the day.

As a first-year, I was struck by how odd it seemed for Oberlin to not have an institutionalized resource like that available, despite student demands for increased support. I soon learned that legal barriers created by mandatory reporting policies are what has historically kept the college from creating a similar program, but former Senator Deborah Johnson and I were not ready to stand down.

Deborah and I decided that the next best thing would be to at least have student bystanders at events where feelings of ambiguity and unsafety are common. Thus, Oberlin Bystander Intervention was born. OBI aims to provide students with training as active bystanders to work at the ’Sco and other large party events. Bystanders provide information, water, snacks, and condoms to students and act as designated active bystanders in an attempt to prevent dangerous situations and help students feel safe.

The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon in which an individual person is less likely to help someone in an emergency if there are others around who could possibly intervene instead. This is why first-aid responders are trained to assign a specific person to call 911 instead of frantically shouting “Someone call 911!” Assigning specific responsibility ensures that the job gets done. This is the motivation behind OBI — because bystanders are trained and on-duty at an event, they will intervene in unsafe situations when others might simply stand by in uncertainty.

OBI has been running for two orientations and two semesters, working primarily in First-Year Residential Experience housing during orientation and in the ’Sco during the regular semester. However, the program has been living in limbo since its creation in 2016. The main constraint is the consistent issue of funding. Flitting from Title IX, to SFC Ad-Hoc, to the Office of the Dean of Students, OBI never had consistent funding — until recently.

OBI is now officially a program of the Center for Student Success, under the guidance and supervision of Edward Gisemba, MPH, Director of Health Promotion for Students. I am thrilled to be working with Eddie and Senator Hanne Williams-Baron, who has been running OBI with me since last semester. OBI will be in full operation by next semester, spring 2018. Applications to be a Bystander will be available by Winter Term, with interviews and selection occurring when students return to campus for the semester. The new and improved program will include more vigorous training for student workers and an increased focus on the educational aspect of prevention work.

As OBI grows and becomes institutionally supported, we are looking to the future and all of its possibility. Workshops run by OBI might cover such topics as healthy alcohol consumption, weed 101, and how intoxication affects consent; the only limit on what we can do is our own inventiveness.

Does the existence of OBI relieve others of their responsibility to intervene and therefore decrease the number of people who would be willing to help? I would argue that it does not. The presence of OBI Bystanders will instead create awareness and remind every student that active bystanding is imperative to creating a safe environment that everyone can enjoy. My hope is that OBI will remind Oberlin students that community accountability begins with watching out for each other and taking a stand against apathy.

If you have suggestions for workshops you would like to see or know an event that you would like to have OBI Bystanders at, please email [email protected].