Imagine that classic movie scene where an army general briefs the president on some kind of epidemic spreading across the country.
A map of the nation has just a few red dots on it, but as the projection continues, they rapidly spread until the county is engulfed in red.
That’s how Dorothy Edwards, the executive director of Green Dot, explained the spread of violence to a group of Penn State faculty and staff at a bystander intervention training session on Monday morning.
In her analogy, those red dots are instances of violence — be it a sexual assault, stalking, physical assault, and so on.
“A red dot is the moment he raises his hand to strike it down against his partner,” Edwards says. “A red dot is when she shows up outside his dorm room even though they broke up and he told her to leave him alone. A red dot is when someone uses their words to intimidate or coerce someone else.”
And what’s the answer to eliminating those red dots? In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s green dots, and that’s why Edwards’ bystander intervention program is called Green Dot. It was selected by Penn State’s Bystander Intervention Task Force out of a vast array of similar programs, says task force chair Katie Tenny.
“We really liked their message. We felt it was simple and that students would resonate with that message,” Tenny says. “It’s also a comprehensive program, so it’s not just training us on the actual program, but it talks about social ecology and all these different levels of change that need to happen.”
The training session was part of a comprehensive bystander intervention program adopted by the university this year. A task force on sexual assault and harassment made 18 recommendations to president Eric Barron, all of which he accepted. One of those was the implementation of a bystander intervention program, which aims to create a culture change that puts more green dots on that map.
Edwards offered an example of a student she met. The student was extremely drunk as she got on her dorm elevator. Two male students were also on the elevator, and they asked her to come back to their room. As she stumbled off the elevator on their floor, a hand reached out from behind her. Another student, who she didn’t realize was on the elevator, stopped her and offered to take her back to her dorm room.
“There has never in the history of the universe been a culture change that didn’t require a lot of people to do something,” Edwards says. “We need to get lots of people at Penn State to each say I will do my moment, and when we get there, our numbers are going to shift.”
She offers a simple method for people to be that positive change and work toward eliminating violence on campus called “the three Ds.”
The first is the “Direct” approach. If someone sees a situation developing that could be a potential red dot, and they feel comfortable directly approaching the situation, they should. For example, if a friend is leaving a bar with someone else and seems to be too drunk, stop him or her and offer to take them home.
The second is to “Delegate.” If you feel uncomfortable directly approaching the situation, find someone else who might be better fit to do so. In the example above, talking to a bouncer or someone who is closer with the intoxicated person would suffice. In other cases, reaching out to a family member of someone in danger or the police might be warranted.
The third is to “Distract.” Edwards tells a story of a student she met at Penn State: He saw his fraternity brother taking a drunk girl upstairs at a party, something he had seen plenty of times before. In this case, he stopped his friend and told him his car was getting towed. While he went outside to check on his car, the girl’s friends took her home.
“I know the teachers in this room don’t like to hear this, but there is no personal growth needed to make positive change,” Edwards says. “No matter who you are, right in this moment even if you have no desire to evolve beyond peer pressure, there are green dots you can do. And you can change a life.”
Reactive green dots aren’t the only solution, says Edwards. On her map, she points out all of the white space in between the red and green dots. Edwards says that being proactive fills that white space with green, making it hostile toward the creation of future red dots.
Through an emphasis on prevention at the administrative level, initiatives and policies can be funded and implemented. From support services for victims to taking all reports seriously, Edwards says that the university can create a culture where violence isn’t tolerated at Penn State and everyone is part of the solution.
Those who took part in the workshop will now be able to train students, faculty, and staff members on bystander intervention. Representatives from 18 Penn State campuses were present at the training session.