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Heroes and Villains: Moving Beyond the Bystander Intervention Framework

Health, Safety, and Well-being Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention, Education, and Response
Alicia Oeser

To create attitudinal and behavioral change, we need to find ways of having meaningful, honest, and critical conversations about the harm we observe and – often unconsciously and unintentionally – engage in. In this framework, this live briefing moves the conversation beyond traditional bystander intervention programs and teaches participants simple skills to address harmful behavior they witness, but also open themselves up to feedback when they have caused harm to others. Questions such as, “What can I say when I observe a classmate, a friend or a family member engaging in harmful language, behavior, or attitudes?” and, “What does an appropriate reaction look like when I get negative feedback about something that I have said or done? “ will be addressed. This live briefing aims to build skills of participants to express emotions and needs, to identify the differences between reactionary and responsive feedback that translate to more successful listening.

Violence prevention, much like other fields, has suffered from an oversimplification of stating the problem, and, as a result, found solutions that fall short. This interactive presentation draws from multiple disciplines to breathe new life into the work of being an upstander.

We created this program to address a diverse range of participants by acknowledging our own identities and the identities of those in the room. The content we share may impact individuals in different ways and we strive to create space for people of all backgrounds to feel respected and comfortable learning and participating. This program merges ideas of Nonviolent Communication and Receiving Feedback to demonstrate the connection between the different roles in a harmful situation. The interaction requires both an upstander, but also a response from the person who has caused harm.
Nonviolent Communication – A Language Toolkit for Upstanders
"What can I say when I have observed harmful language or attitudes during class, a conference, a meeting, or on a family gathering? How can I get my message across, but not cause the recipient to get into a defense mode? How can I prevent the situation from escalating?" Rooted in the framework of nonviolent communication, this live briefing will focus on these questions and will teach participants to differentiate between evaluations and observations, to express their emotions and needs, and to make doable requests from others. Mindful of each person’s identities, levels of comfort, patience, and emotional capacity, this liv briefing will not teach nonviolent communication as a philosophy of life, but as an optional toolkit that participants may or may not find suitable to use when confronting micro aggressions.

Receiving Feedback- Letting go and learning to listen to an Upstander
“I’ve just been told something I said hurt someone I really care about. I am a good person, I care about those around me - I certainly didn’t mean to hurt anyone else!” Chances are this internal monologue is familiar. The premise of this workshop rests on the idea that good people can do bad things. Whether we mean to or not, we have all caused harm to someone at some point in our lives. Common reactions to being told we did this include defensiveness, anger, dismissiveness, and reassigning blame. No wonder it’s hard to be an upstander! There are tangible ways to challenge our immediate reactions and hold ourselves accountable to creating a safer space where people can feel more comfortable speaking out and standing up.  This live briefing will teach individuals to recognize these reactions as they occur and find more productive ways to respond. 

In its entirety, the program examines systems and structures that contribute to violence and inequity and move forward toward a more just society. We have adopted a multidisciplinary approach from the field of public health using the social ecological model; from peace and conflict studies using nonviolent communication; and from business psychology using research on communication and feedback.

Learning Outcomes

Participants will be able to:

  • accurately describe the difference between feelings and needs; 
  • recognize and combat their own resistance to hearing feedback; and
  • articulate the connection between intervention and feedback.
Course Length
Course Type
On Demand

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