Two people at a bar look like they’re about to go home together but they’re too drunk to give consent for sex. It’s a potentially dangerous situation for one or both, yet it occurs in State College — and across the country — every day.
That’s why Penn State’s bystander intervention program, called Stand for State, is set to launch on Jan. 27.
Program coordinator Katie Tenny says its goal is to give community members ways to interact with people in such situations and help get them out of their predicaments.
The program’s workshops hope to create two cultural norms across campus, she said. The first is that safety is a priority for everyone; the second is that everyone has a role in the safety of others.
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“We aren’t encouraging people to be a hero,” Tenny said. “It’s really just living the life that you already live and then, if you ever see a potential red dot — like, if you want to step in — then you have some options to do that.”
Red dots, said Tenny, are incidents that harm others — typically related to sexual assault, sexual violence and relationship violence — and everyone has the opportunity to change the red dots into green dots, which are positive, inclusive interactions.
Tenny said the program was inspired by Green Dot, a research-based bystander intervention program for high schools and colleges.
According to a study conducted by the Association of American Universities, 27 percent of female seniors at universities have experienced unwanted sexual contact or attempted sexual contact a result of force or being incapacitated. The study was conducted across 27 universities.
There are three ways to prevent a possible sexual assault, said Tenny. The program refers to these as “the 3 D’s”: direct, distract and delegate.
“Direct” means confronting those involved about the potentially dangerous situation. “Distract” means distracting those involved by getting them to go somewhere else. “Delegate” refers to asking someone else, such as the host, a professor or a bouncer, to get involved and prevent the situation from escalating.
“I really feel like now I have a lot more tools,” said David Gaddy, 20. “Stand for State does a really good job of making it an approachable topic for those that participate through the workshop.”
“There have been so many times that I’ve grabbed somebody and said, ‘Let’s go get Crunchee Munchees.’ And then we leave,” he said.
Gaddy, a junior studying immunology and infectious disease, has been involved in Stand for State’s startup by attending workshops and spreading the word about the program to his peers.
Taylor Sweeney, 22, is also an ambassador for Stand for State and its prelaunch initiatives. She said she often asks friends whom she believes are in a potential red dot situation to go to the bathroom with her.
Penn State President Eric Barron created a sexual assault and sexual harassment task force to review what the university was doing and how it could become a leader. The bystander intervention program had been functioning for a year before he recommended that it be funded as part of the task force’s recommendations.
Down the road, the plan is to include issues of bias and mental health awareness, Tenny said.
There are about nine implementation teams with a total of 40 to 50 students, staff and faculty at University Park, according to Tenny. Across the commonwealth campuses about 200 people are involved, with an implementation team at each campus, she said.
“It’s not the silver bullet, of course. There are a lot of things that need to happen in all areas of campus in order to change a culture,” said Tenny. “This is one piece of a lot of different efforts that are happening.”
“It’s been very eye-opening,” said Sweeney of the conversations she’s had in and outside of the workshops. “Maybe we don’t see the outcome right now, but who knows what they could’ve prevented so far and what they can continue to prevent if we continue to have these kinds of conversations.”
“I know within my concentrated network, it’s taken a very strong hold very quickly,” said Gaddy. “I’m excited to see it on a universitywide scale.”
“Enough people have to actually believe that their individual contributions make a difference,” Tenny said. “When enough people start believing that and start doing that, that’s when things really start to really change.”
Meg McLaurin is a Penn State journalism student.