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Bystander Intervention Program Ramps Up at Penn State

Teacher in front of class
Emily Reddy
/
WPSU

Earlier this year, a Penn State task force made recommendations on how to fight sexual assault and harassment on campus. One of those recommendations is being implemented in the form of “bystander intervention” training.

Katie Tenny is a counselor at Penn State's Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) and the interim coordinator of the bystander intervention initiative. 

At a recent training of a group of about 30 Penn State students she told them the training would help them spot problem situations.

“You are going to encounter times when you have the chance to intervene," said Tenny, "and you’ll be more prepared to see what that looks like.”

The students were orientation leaders who’ll be working with incoming Freshmen; and this training was meant to help them spot and intervene in dicey situations involving drinking, depression and sexual assault.

Tenny led the students through group work, talked to them about ways they could intervene, and showed the students a video of an example scenario.

In the video, a group of friends is drinking, then goes out to the bar. A man hits on and eventually leaves with one of the young women, who appears to be very drunk.

The students talked about the warning signs in the video, which showed simple ways a half dozen bystanders could have done something to intervene.

Emma Eckert was one of the student orientation leaders who’ll be working with new freshmen.

“So basically we’re facilitating frank discussions about things that happen on campus," said Eckert. "I think it’s kind of intimidating; I’m pretty scared about it, but we’ve been doing a lot of activities to that have kind of made us more comfortable talking about it.”

Tenny says this training will help these orientation leaders to be better bystanders.

“Most people are not okay with this behavior," said Tenny, "and yet people get stuck. They’re like, ‘Well I didn’t even see it happen. I don’t know what to look for.’ Or ‘I didn’t know what to do.’”

The training to actually teach bystander intervention is much more involved than the one-hour workshop for the student orientation leaders. 

A group of around 75 faculty and staff representing most of the Penn State campuses just went through a four-day training, and in the fall they’ll fan out to give workshops like the one Tenny has just wrapped up. They won’t be able to train everyone, but Tenny says they will go beyond just incoming Freshmen.

"Because as you talk about culture and influence, they don’t have much influence at that point when they come in,” said Tenny. "So it's really important that we also focus efforts on training people that are upperclassmen, training folks that are influential on campus that can really change the culture and set the trend."

And Tenny’s goal is nothing short of changing the culture at Penn State.