Step Up: Bystander Intervention



You can make a difference.

This idea, the notion that everyone can recognize bad situations and do something about it, is the foundation “Step Up,” a program at the University of Minnesota based out of the Aurora Center.

“A lot of the problems that happen on campus could be mitigated, or actually prevented, if someone was just paying attention,” said Sarah Flinspach, a student staff member of Step Up.

Step Up was founded first at the University of Arizona. It caught on to a number of colleges before coming to the University of Minnesota in 2012. Housed within the office of the Aurora Center, Step Up is one of the many groups in the “Appleby Hub” of equity and diversity groups, including the Women’s Center.

Step Up offers bystander intervention training, put on by sexual assault crisis counselors, for student groups at the U. It has two goals: to get you to recognize situation in which you can intervene, and to train you how to intervene effectively. Step Up talks about all different types of issues, for example: relationship violence, sexual abuse, stalking, substance abuse, mental health discrimination, and addiction of any sort.

“Sometimes people see us and they are worried, like ‘Is this a huge problem on campus? Do people get sexually assaulted here?’ The answer is yes, people get sexually assaulted on every college campus. And us being here means that we’re not ignoring it, and we are trying to do something about it,” Flinspach said. She advised when looking at colleges, look into the programs they offer, and rather than reading crime stats, see if they are doing anything about those crimes.

“Campus sexual assault is huge in the media right now. It is really easy to feel like you can’t do anything. But there are small things you can do that are not victim blaming, and that would make you what we call an active bystander,” Flinspach said. “So when you see something, say something. No matter what the situation is.”

Step Up are working to eliminate the bystander effect on campus, which is the effect that someone is less likely to act with others around than when they are alone.

They encourage using the 3 D’s to intervene: Direct, Distract, and Delegate. Direct refers to directly intervening in the situation, approaching it head on and talking to the people that are involved. Distract refers to distracting two opposing parties (by small talk, spilling your drink on them, etc.) and then getting the person you are concerned about out of the situation. Delegate refers to speaking up to another person who can help you, or even take over the situation, like a dorm advisor or a bartender.

Once you know how you can intervene, these are the five steps Step Up says to take to eliminate the bystander effect:

  1. Notice the event
  2. Interpret as a problem/emergency
  3. Assume personal responsibility
  4. Have the skills (The 3 D’s)
  5. Use the skills!

If you want a deeper explanation or your student group to get the official bystander intervention training, email the Aurora Center at, or the director Traci Thomas-Card, at Step Up trainings can be customized, too, so when you are requesting training think about issues your group is facing, and how Step Up can help you with it.


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