Peters: Increasing Intervention

by William Peters | 4/7/14 6:36pm

Recently, I was sitting with a group of friends, all of whom I respect and admire, and we were talking about how to prevent sexual assault around campus. They expressed passion and concern about these issues, but when we brought up intervention, I made a startling discovery. I found that the problem goes deeper than the existence of bad people who simply want to do harm. There are many people at Dartmouth — my friends included — who just don’t understand how or when to intervene. A friend and I had to explain the complicated relationship between drugs, sexual assault and bystanders. No matter how drunk an individual is they are still accountable for their actions, even if those actions include sexual assault. If houses had more Dartmouth Bystander Initiative-trained members, those individuals could educate members of houses, not as outsiders, but as friends, brothers and sisters. Further, if students underwent Mentors Against Violence facilitations earlier, destructive attitudes would be less likely to become entrenched in their minds.

I joined MAV last term. While I sat through the six-hour training, learning how to educate students about sexual and verbal assault, one thought kept running through my head: Why aren’t we performing these facilitations earlier? If MAV stands to make a difference on campus, students need to undergo the facilitations before they join Greek houses.

Greek members are already expected to attend a MAV facilitation, so why not take it a step further by mandating that students attend before rush, instead of after? This way, facilitations will not be affected by a specific organization’s culture, especially those with spaces or individuals resistant to MAV’s goals. With the help of Greek Letter Organizations and Societies and the Greek Leadership Council, MAV facilitations could become a prerequisite for rush.

Though some individuals may perpetuate the behaviors that MAV seeks to remedy, it is important to remember that most social spaces are not averse to making the campus a safer place. Most, if not all, houses on campus support these efforts and in fact wish to further them. However, MAV’s efforts are essentially limited to these one-time facilitations. Yes, it orients people to other offices for assistance after the facilitations end, but it has no way of making sure that pledges retain any of the lessons. For many students, MAV is just another mandatory box to check off to complete pledge term.

This is where Dartmouth’s Bystander Initiative, which trains members of the community to make social spaces safer, needs to come in. If the administration mandated that DBI complemented MAV’s efforts by maintaining a constant presence in every house, we might see many of Dartmouth’s issues with violence and sexual assault start to improve. Presidents are already required to undergo DBI training, along with one other officer.

This is only one step toward lessening the incidence of assault on our campus, but it’s a start. Requiring all house officers, including vice presidents and social chairs, to be properly trained is the next step. The College already requires that they attend a multitude of meetings. Why not one more, particularly one that could actually make a difference? By increasing the number of DBI-trained people in houses around campus and charging these people with educating their peers, Dartmouth would essentially install an authoritative presence of prevention. Houses operate by a system based on positions and seniority. If officers and older members are properly trained, underclassmen will likely follow suit. Younger members might actually make sure that an incapacitated individual gets home safely or stop that brother or sister from having another drink. Consider it constructive peer-pressure — pressure to do the right thing.

This is obviously not the only solution, but it is one of many steps that can be taken to reduce our school’s problems. Given the recent controversies on campus, increasing bystander initiatives and preventative measures is a wise and necessary move.