Amanda stood in the kitchen surrounded by at least thirty people, and she didn’t recognize a single one. Paul and Brian were trying to set up the keg and she realized she was going to have to drink or risk getting made fun of for the whole rest of the night. Desperately, she looked around the room to see if anyone cared…if anyone cared at all that she didn’t want to drink. “Outnumbered thirty to one,” she thought, “This isn’t going to end well…my parents are going to kill me.” Amanda looks up, and her eyebrows rose slightly. Jordan had just walked in, looked at her, and shook her head in disgust. Jordan looked at Amanda, looked at the crowd, and then looked carefully at Brian and Paul. “Now what?” Jordan thought.
Jordan was faced with a tough decision at a critical point in time. She could join in the (not) “fun” and force Amanda to drink, or she could help her get out of there and risk being shunned by her peers. Unfortunately, this is a scenario that plays out over and over again on college campuses.
In the case of bystander intervention, very rarely is there a specific benefit for the person intervening, other than for them to know that intervening is simply the “right thing to do.” Banking on the belief that “most people will act because it is the right thing to do,” is misguided. Research has shown that when there are several people aware of a bad situation or recognize that a person needs help, the LESS likely it is that they will intervene. Most of the time, it is because of the assumption that “it is someone else’s problem,” or that “someone else will take care of it.”
By collectively mobilizing, engaging, and becoming intolerant of unacceptable behavior (no matter how small), we can prevent the escalation to more harmful and dangerous behaviors. Inappropriate behavior (think: disrespectful language, actions, bullying, predatory behavior) cannot survive in an environment that won’t allow it. We need to create that environment, and we especially need to create that environment on college campuses so that it is a physically and emotionally safe place for everyone to learn, live, and work. The entire campus community plays a valuable role in preventing acts that harm the community or violate basic human dignity.