Last weekend, I was at the bar with my friends sipping a vodka soda and letting the libations fuel my dancing.
It was like any normal night out. I haven’t seen too many situations in which I’ve had to take a stand in my four years at Plattsburgh. I’ve never felt like a guilty bystander, witnessing emotional or physical abuse. I know it happens, but so far, there’s only been a handful of times I could’ve stepped in and said something in defense of another person.
Last Friday, I was standing with my friend Ryan and the couple dancing next to us seemed a little off. They weren’t really dancing, but rather clumsily swaying.
The boy was holding onto the girl and fumbling as he tried to hold her waist. The girl was drunk, but she was also resistant. Every time the boy tried to kiss her, she would turn her face away. She kept pushing herself away from him.
In this moment, I wanted to speak up, but I stopped myself.
What if they were dating and joking around? I didn’t want to get involved with a couple and I didn’t want to anger anyone.
On the other hand, what if they weren’t dating?
I nodded to Ryan, and as he stepped in to say something, the girl broke away and stumbled up the stairs to the second floor of the bar. The boy, looking embarrassed, quickly spun around and left.
Is there such thing as an innocent bystander? When does a third-party issue become our responsibility to take part in?
I sat down with Plattsburgh’s Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise to get insight into what can be done when witnessing these conflicts.
“The fundamental aspect of the bystander effect is that people’s perceptions are off,” Blaise said. “They either think someone is going to step in, and they don’t, or they think that maybe someone already has. Stepping in, even when you’re questioning whether or not to do so, you might find out it was necessary, and the best case scenario is that you helped someone.”
I learned this campus has a program called Step Up!, led by Health Educator Rhema Lewis. The program educates students on alcohol abuse, sexual assault, hazing and other health-related topics.
Blaise said she believes Step Up! has had an impact on PSUC, but thinks it’s “difficult to measure success when (educators) can’t be everywhere at the same time and when the program hasn’t been utilized by the whole campus.”
Step Up! has been integrated into certain athletic groups and Greek life, and Blaise said Lewis is able to train with any groups and willing to go to classes to educate students.
“My definition of a bystander is someone who stands there and does nothing,” Blaise said.
When asked if there’s a right and wrong way to go about helping, Blaise answered, “what something looks like (to one person) is different for everyone, and it varies by scenario, but there should never be an expectation that someone is going to put themselves in harm’s way to intervene. Assess the situation from a personal safety standpoint.”
We also touched on domestic violence and how to take a stand to help as a friend or bystander.
“In situations of being in a violent relationship, for safety reasons, it can become not being the one who is the solution, but rather being the person that makes a call to 911, U.P. or someone on campus who specializes in the issue you’re dealing with,” Blaise said.
Blaise also mentioned that making a safety plan is smart for a friend who recognizes their abuse but isn’t ready to leave the relationship. Keeping a bag of belongings in a safe place could be part of the plan. Also, using code-words in texts and emails can keep the abuser in the dark about communication that they may be infringing on.
Some helpful resources Blaise mentioned include visiting the Title IX office in Hawkins 151, contacting Rhema Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or seeking out the counseling services in Ward 104.
In addition to these campus resources, Blaise also informed me about the Gender and Women’s Studies class “Sexuality, Power and Relationships” taught over an April weekend. The class examines healthy and unhealthy relationships, identifying abuse, conversations on consent, rape culture and more. The class is also taught by peer educators and includes workshops with Rhema Lewis.
“Making the choice to come to SUNY Plattsburgh was making the choice to become part of a community, and any time one of our community members is in harm’s way, we have a responsibility to step in when we can,” Blaise said.
Email Courtney Casey at email@example.com