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March 21, 2018

In my sophomore year of high school I was in a class with a new teacher. The teacher kept referring to a student with incorrect pronouns, even though the student’s preferred pronouns were on their school information. Every time this happened the class would squirm in discomfort, as we knew the student’s preferred pronouns. However, we kept quiet because the teacher was new and we thought maybe she would catch on. She didn’t. Finally, one of my peers talked to the teacher after class and informed the teacher of the student’s preferred pronouns. Although the teacher still messed up sometimes, she at least was completely aware of the situation and was making an effort.

In this scenario it was more comfortable for another student to confront the teacher than for the student who was being referred to with incorrect pronouns to confront the teacher. The rest of the class held the privilege in this situation, because correcting pronoun use when it regards yourself, especially to an authority figure, can be nerve wracking. I can imagine that having to correct your pronouns feels about ten times as daunting as correcting someone who mispronounces your name.

What especially stuck with me about this classroom dynamic was that the student who confronted the teacher did so privately. Not in class and not around other students. Most of us knew that the teacher was doing something wrong, but had we called her out in the middle of a lesson, it wouldn’t have only put her on the spot, but the student as well. By waiting until later, the active bystander saved the teacher the possible embarrassment of being called out in front of her whole class, and didn’t make the student the center of attention for something they probably didn’t want to be.

Everyday we witness situations that we could intervene in, no matter how large or small. Determining whether or not it will be beneficial to step in or step up to confront someone can be tough. By practicing bystander intervention in smaller, less high stakes settings, such as addressing harassment jokes or teasing, we can better prepare ourselves for larger situations.

When I was in this class I was far too shy to confront the teacher about anything besides my grades and the educational content, but seeing the effect of my peer becoming an active bystander has stuck with me ever since.

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