Bystander intervention has been at the forefront of my mind since I began to teach
consent education as a peer educator.
It is quite likely that I have read every Tumblr post relating to bystander intervention, seen every relevant PSA, and led too many bystander intervention trainings. However, in my experiences with consent and sex education, I never thought I would have to use bystander intervention tactics to defend a student who was being bullied during my presentation.
It was not until this year that I realized the importance of leading by example, instead of droning on about self-care, confrontation, and risk factor.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I was in a freshman classroom for our series of presentations regarding Rape Culture, Bystander Intervention, Consent, and Unhealthy Relationships. Each time I had come to this class, there was a particular student who was targeted. Whether it were the pronouns they identified with, the opinions they were sharing, or their emotional experiences, they always seemed to be harassed. This behaviour was particularly troublesome, especially when the student described their sexual assault experiences and were questioned afterwards. Even though students were being asked to practice bystander intervention tactics, they weren’t standing up for the peers in their class.
Even though I knew this behaviour was unacceptable, it was really difficult to call it out, especially as a peer presenter. At first, I really didn’t know how to respond. The student bullies ere simply disagreeing with this person. Although it was disrespectful and insensitive, I didn’t know how to tell them they were wrong, especially without knowing the full story. I recognized the feeling of the pit in my stomach, and I decided that this time, I would intervene.
I shut down the conversation, and reminded the entire classroom about the respect we must treat each other with, no matter our differences in opinion. I also checked in with the person affected by the situation afterwards, making sure they were alright after the conflict. Although, more than anything, this served as a teaching moment for students, it was also a time that bystander intervention played an important (and real) role in classroom interactions.