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Editorial | Giving due attention to bystander effect

Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 01:11

Since the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964, the bystander effect has been a recognized psychological phenomenon that occurs when one or more individuals do not intervene in a dangerous or emergency situation.

Awareness projects (“If you see something, say something”) have historically been effective in helping to prevent crime on a city-wide level. However, the bystander effect isn’t always limited to cities: Emergency situations often go unreported on college campuses as well.

Fortunately, Tufts’ Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is actively working to address the problem of the bystander effect on campus by bringing the University of Arizona’s Step UP! program to Tufts. It is commendable that this group of student athletes is bringing this issue to light, especially after the incident last year at a volleyball game that resulted in the benching of 27 Tufts athletes for harassment.

Harassment by athletes and spectators during sporting games is only one of the situations in which the bystander effect can occur on campus. Step UP! also hopes to address the issue with regards to hazing (sports initiation, Greek life or otherwise), drinking culture, eating disorders, sexual assault and discrimination. The program provides instructions on how to identify instances where the bystander effect happens and most importantly, how to step in and prevent unfortunate outcomes in these situations.

The importance of this program cannot be overstated. Not only does it seek to address an issue that affects our campus (even with the new medical amnesty alcohol policy, some students still do not report friends who have over-imbibed to dangerous levels), but it also reframes issues outside of the normal perpetrator-victim dynamic, reminding third-party Jumbos of a need to be responsible and advocate for every member of the Tufts community.

The fact that this initiative is peer-to-peer and provides instruction for student leaders on campus, such as athletes and members of Greek life, is highly relevant — it shows that students are taking the initiative to tackle problems that the administration has not been able to completely resolve. SAAC’s involvement is pivotal, as these student athletes provide a bridge not only between student leaders and their peers, but also between the student body and the funds and resources of the Tufts administration.

The bystander effect happens everywhere, and Tufts is no exception. The Step UP! program is a positive development in addressing this issue by empowering students to respond to dangerous situations and to take personal responsibility for the safety of their peers — something that, unfortunately, hasn’t always happened at Tufts. 

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