December 1st, 2014

Bystander program promotes caring

In August, Providence College in R.I. launched Step UP!, a bystander program developed at the University of Arizona that aims to raise awareness regarding helping behavior, increase motivation to intervene and develop skills and confidence to safely respond to problem situations.

James Campbell, Ph.D., director, Personal Counseling Center at Providence College, leads the program together with two other staff members and several student leaders. He explains that the school had explored several programs before selecting Step UP!

“We wanted something with more breadth. This one applies the concept of respect, compassion and courage,” he says. “We are developing a four-year curriculum to reinforce the ideas and keep them fresh.”

Campbell points out that Step UP! helps students identify the obstacles that challenge the decision to take action during a problem situation, which include ambiguity, conformity and obedience to perceived authority.

Staff and student leaders began training students, athletes, incoming freshmen, resident assistants and orientation leaders at the beginning of the school year. “By May, we will have 95 percent of the student body initially trained,” Campbell says.

The core one-hour program comprises videos, discussion and multiple presenters. “This is not wagging our fingers, but engaging people as heroes. Our goal is to engage students and make them aware of the concepts,” Campbell says. The program emphasizes three intervention options: direct, delegate and distract. “There is a vast storehouse of social psychology research in textbooks to support this technique. This is a way to build interventions on things we know matter,” he says. “This is a very promising program to protect people, change behaviors and build community. It fits with our Christian Catholic mission.”

The program involves five steps that must occur in order to provide help. Students are trained to notice the event; interpret the event as a problem, assume personal responsibility; know what to do in a particular situation; and implement the help by taking action.

Anecdotal feedback to date has been good, according to Campbell. “We are trying to get through to students who are out there to help each other. We are building on the fact that other students are around when something happens. It could make some substantial changes,” he says.

Michael L. Jackson, coordinator of basketball operations at the college, is encouraged by the top-down energy and feedback. “Our athletic director bought into the program from the beginning and students are buying into it now,” he says.

While doing presentations for athletes, Jackson uses examples from recent sports-related headlines relevant to the audience. “I try to make it interactive. It’s more effective to have athletes talk about it. They buy in and come up with solutions,” he says. “Peer interaction is critical. It gives more credibility to the program.”

Jackson explains that Providence College considers its student body, faculty and staff all part of the “Friar Family.”

“Providence College is small. We create a family environment. Each student and athlete is looking out for each other. We want this program to become synonymous with Providence College,” he says.

One of the student leaders, junior Kathryn C. Stephan, has been active in the Step UP! bystander training from its inception and works closely with Campbell and Jackson. “We’re a community. It’s my favorite thing about the school. I want everyone to feel safe,” she says. “Our goal is to make students aware of the ‘bystander effect.’ When something bad happens people are less likely to take action when they are in a group. They think someone else will take action, but someone has to be that someone,” she explains.

The Avon Foundation for Women awarded a $5,000 grant to fund the program.

By Phyllis Hanlon

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