Our Obligation to be Prosocial Bystanders

Ryen Cinski ’22
Opinions Editor

As a sophomore here at Holy Cross, mandatory events from freshman year are still fresh in my mind. After fall orientation ends, you are so ready to be on your own and to start your routine. So, when you find out that you must attend something called “Bystander Training” in late September, you aren’t thrilled. Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with feeling a little reluctance about going to an hour long mandated event. 

Although mandated events are no fun, this particular event, “Bystander Training,” is extremely relevant. The program goes through numerous topics that should matter to each of us, some of these being national and Holy Cross sexual assault statistics, how to be a prosocial bystander safely, and where to go if you or a friend needs help. The Oxford English Dictionary describes a bystander as “One who is standing by; one who is present without taking part in what is going on; a passive spectator.” There’s a very popular phrase, usually used to prevent danger in public spaces, that goes: “If you see something, say something.” While this would usually be applied to a suspicious character or abnormal activity, it can also be applied to sexual harassment and assault. If you see something, you are required as a prosocial bystander to say something or do something. The difference between a prosocial bystander and a bystander is that a prosocial bystander, rather than watching and doing nothing, is someone who sees something that can be potentially harmful and attempts to mitigate the situation in a safe and impactful way.

In mitigating said situations, it is important to maintain the safety of both yourself and the victim. Impactful intervention requires you to recognize potentially harmful situations and understand the conditions that foster this, plan out effective and safe intervention strategies, and act safely. Being a prosocial bystander doesn’t have to be running up to a perpetrator and punching them in the face, rather, it can be as simple as, “Hey, I need to tell you something. Come to the bathroom with me?”

As previously stated, the first step to being a prosocial bystander is recognizing potentially harmful situations and understanding the conditions that foster them. To identify these situations and recognize the conditions they exist in, it is important to be knowledgeable on the topic of consent. We all know that no means no. But do we also know that silence means no? That a coerced yes means no? That a yes when threatened means no? That anything but an affirmative yes is a no? Consent is a necessary player in any encounter, and an understanding of consent can lead to a safer college experience. Here is a recap of a few ways in which consent isn’t given, therefore making the progression of sexual interaction wrong: silence, passivity, absence of resistance, intoxication, unconsciousness, underage (under 16 in MA), and more. If you agree to one thing but don’t agree to another, it is your right to say no and to be heard, understood, and respected. Consent is a necessity, and so is an understanding.

In conclusion, attending mandated events when you’re in the middle of grinding out homework or taking a nap isn’t great. But since you absolutely must be there, you should really try to be present and take in the information presented to you. Especially if it concerns a problem that you can play a part in fixing. We all have the potential to be prosocial bystanders, therefore, I urge you to take an interest in programming of sexual assault and to actively work at being a person for and with others. Just because Holy Cross is a small school doesn’t mean that this doesn’t happen here – so be vigilant and be for yourself and others safely and effectively.

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