In an attempt to develop a campus- wide approach to prevent sexual assault, a coalition of students and administrators is currently in the process of developing a program that will train students to be effective bystanders.
According to College senior Jolie De Feis, who is involved in writing the curriculum for Oberlin’s bystander training, an effective bystander is one who is observant of their surroundings, but who does not go so far as to physically intervene.
“Basically [it’s] being an active participant and onlooker, and being able to notice and be aware of things that are possibly not consensual, or turning into violent situation,” De Feis said. “It’s all about being an attentive, active community overseer.”
Bystander training, though relatively new, has been used in the military and other universities and colleges to foster community-wide responsibility in regard to the prevention of sexual assault.
Members of the coalition include Meredith Raimondo, associate dean and interim title IX coordinator, Marjorie Burton, director of Safety and Security, and several other department heads. Though members of the coalition have not yet solidified their techniques for leading the trainings, the sessions will begin in the upcoming weeks with student athletes.
College senior Kaitlyn Custer, who is also involved with the project, said that the most significant aspect of the new bystander trainings is their focus on prevention.
“We’re focusing on [the period] before acts of violence happen, because we believe that these acts of violence happen on a continuum,” Custer said. “There are lots of little things that lead into the one thing that would be followed by a judicial trial. We’re creating an environment that tries to step in along that continuum and prevent that act from happening. We can all encourage our community to have a higher expectation of safety.”
Before bystander training is introduced to the entire student body, it will be used in the Athletics department and in Resident Assistant training so that the administration can gauge campus feedback.
“We want to work with communities that already have a sense of community among themselves,” Custer said. “We want people to work off each other and think in ways that a lacrosse team is already used to doing, and the ways that the RAs in Noah are already used to doing, and by doing that we can hopefully improve our program through seeing different perspectives.”
After it initiates the training, the coalition will work to create a network of peacekeepers, students trained not only to be aware of their surroundings, but also to intervene if necessary.
“The goal is that everyone on campus is trained to be a bystander, and knows what to look out for, but not everyone is going to be a peacekeeper and know how to intervene and what to do,” said De Feis.
For Custer, an effective peacekeeper is one who is passionate about making campus safer for their peers.
“We’re aiming to have a wide web of people interested in being peacekeepers that could help facilitate safety and comfort, and people that
would be able to utilize that resource,” said Custer.
Regardless of the details of the coming techniques, the training curriculum will be written specifically for Oberlin, De Feis said.
“We’re developing a curriculum that works for Oberlin based on things that we’ve seen that have been problems at Oberlin,” said De Feis. “So it’s new, but it’s based on tried and true practices.”
College junior Sandia Ashley, who is also involved in planning the training, sees the program as a needed expansion of the policies already in place.
“So this is — along with the other changes being made with the sexual misconduct policy — one of the other ways we can improve the systems that are already in place, and add more aspects that can reach more members of the community and help our community to be safer,” she said.