Bringing in the Bystander: Why is it important, and why are students not attending?

Rebecca Cole
Contributing Writer 

Bringing in the Bystander is an intervention training program that helps students learn how to step in and prevent sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking. Maria Michonski, the Project Director for Campus Sexual Assault and Prevention states “Rather than focusing on set roles of ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim,’ BITB is successful because it uses a community responsibility approach to intervening.“ It is a mandatory program that usually takes place during first year orientation, but was pushed back to the spring semester this year due to COVID-19 complications. 

Several initiatives, both student-led and on an administrative level, have formed recently to address campus sexual assault at Sewanee. Along with existing resources like the Bairnwick Women’s Center and Title IX office, the University now has a Student Title IX group (STIX) and a new Project Director for Campus Sexual Assault and prevention, Maria Michonski. 

Michonski stated that Bringing in the Bystander is “effective in assisting our students in building the skills necessary to recognize instances of potential or ongoing relational or sexual harm and to intervene to stop these instances from occurring or continuing.” 

Michonski plans on implementing additional bystander training as she and a team of over 30 administer a three-year grant from the Department of Justice. She is in the process of developing “some next-steps trainings for our entire campus community…beyond first year orientation and the basics.” This will help the University to tackle issues of sexual assault and relaitonship violence head on and maintain this pro-social bystander mindset after students’ first year. 

However, while this training is mandatory for first year students, there is no way to enforce participation, and many students are not partaking in Bringing in the Bystander. 

There are multiple times on different days and weeks that students can attend, with the intention of creating availability for all students’ schedules. But even with these many time slots, Madison Reid (C‘24), who participated in bystander intervention training, said that “there were six people in my training.”

Reid also commented that she believes it was important because it created an opportunity for “men as well as women to learn about how to stop sexual assault and harrassment.” 

She also stated that the training was “a good start, but we need more.”

However, Katy Mae Elder (‘24) stated,“It’s not that having this training isn’t important to me, but I would have to make the time to fit it into my schedule and right now my mental health is struggling due to my already overwhelming stress of the semester.” 

Despite this, Michonski reminds students in the training and in her role as Project Director that it is important to “understand these issues and the role that community responsibility and intervention can play in keeping our community safe from these types of violence.”

These trainings are part of a greater urge to address the safety of all students in the Sewanee community.