Staff Editorial: Bystander intervention training needs to be mandatory

Sexual violence is an epidemic on college campuses. Whether it presents itself as disturbing cases of repeat offenders or casual rape jokes, it is clear that not enough work is being done to combat rape culture on campus. It is the opinion of the editorial board that the university should mandate the Student Alliance Against Sexual Harassment and Assault’s (SAASHA’s) Bystander Intervention Training for all students. This should not even be a debate, considering the kinds of danger that threatens students, women especially but not exclusively, on campus.

Currently, the “Think About It!” program is the only educational requirement for Lawrence students that deals with the prevention of sexual misconduct. “Think About It!” is an online program that all incoming freshman take before arriving on campus each fall. Although “Think About It!” discusses sexual misconduct, it is not specifically tailored to the subject; it is meant to cover “risky behavior” in general, and also discusses topics like drugs and alcohol. While “Think About It!” is a good first step in the prevention of sexual misconduct, rape culture cannot be effectively dismantled through virtual, hypothetical situations.

Bystander Intervention Training, offered by SAASHA, is specifically designed to help prevent sexual assault and harassment. It aims to prevent sexual assault by combatting the “bystander effect,” which often inhibits people from doing what they can to prevent sexual misconduct. Currently, annual Bystander Intervention Training sessions are required for the members of any campus organization wishing to host an event open to all of campus, but is not required for all Lawrence students.

What makes Bystander Intervention Training effective is its conversational format. The training gets people talking to each other about consent and how to protect people from violence. With so many people being assaulted, it is clear that these assaults are not being perpetrated by just the most evil of people. Talking about these problems not only gives students the tools to protect themselves and others, but it also forces students to consider the ways in which they may contribute to rape culture. This process is more effective in a non-judgemental, face-to-face discussion, which computer-based educational programs like “Think About It!” cannot provide.

The infrastructure to implement such changes already exists. Lawrence has made a huge investment in CORE to help freshmen get accustomed to college life. In order to make the conversation about sexual violence more widespread and effective, Bystander Intervention Training or a similar safe-space training program could be a required part of the CORE program, perhaps led by group leaders themselves. In addition, this training could even be a graduation requirement for all students. The message this would send is clear: if a student wants to be a part of the campus community, they must ensure that campus is as safe as possible for everyone.

Lawrence has begun taking the steps to keep students safe, the changes we propose would continue this process. All of campus should be trained to prevent sexual violence. As a community, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to protect one another—enough is enough.