Three skills for bystander intervention


As we address the problem of alcohol abuse during this National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, I invite you to consider that most of the problems on our college campus, especially problems associated with alcohol abuse, have bystanders—those who see it, hear about it, or know about it and do nothing. Say nothing.

Yet we can’t talk about alcohol abuse without also talking about problems like hazing, drug abuse, sexual abuse/assault, eating disorders, and discrimination (racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism). And, as we have all seen lately: bullying.

So, what we can we do? In that moment when we have the thought about the problem not being right&mdashabout wanting to make a difference and take care of someone—what can we do? I get to travel the country offering students the following three tools to take out into life and practice:

⇥•⇥Interpret what’s happening as a problem (if it is, indeed, a problem)
⇥•⇥Be the one responsible for dealing with the problem
⇥•⇥Identify the barrier in the way of taking action, go beyond that barrier, and take action!

First, you must interpret what’s happening as a problem. To be clear, we are talking about those problems that we know are a problem yet we sell out for the reasons, justifications, explanations and excuses we have for it not being a problem. And you really do already know when something is a problem— – your personal and organizational values are the only compass you need. Simply said: you know!

Secondly, you must declare that you are the one responsible for dealing with the problem. Even though you may not be the actual perpetrator, this is an opportunity to simply declare: I am the one! You are simply declaring that you will be the one to do something about it. And, we all have a moral obligation to do something—we would expect the same done for us.

Finally, once you have interpreted something is a problem and declared that you are the one to deal it; you will then have a thought. It will be a thought something like, “Well, no one else is doing anything, it must not be a problem.” Or, “Someone else will do something, it’s not my job.” Or, you will have an experience of fear— – a fear of emotional or physical harm.

The real opportunity is to identify this thought as the barrier that is stopping you, go beyond that barrier, and take the appropriate action necessary in that moment. Whatever action will make the difference in that situation. Whatever action will let you be the brother you have actually taken the oath to be. Whatever action will let you be someone who takes care of others—someone who is willing to take the risk and have the courage to transform your values into action.

This is our opportunity to now practice these three tools. This is our opportunity to not be bystanders and actually be the agents of change on our campuses, in our organizations, in our communities, and in society. This is our opportunity to take care of each other— – as we would expect others to do for us.

Mike Dilbeck is the Creator and Producer of the RESPONSE ABILITY Project, a national initiative to cause a tipping point in bystander behavior on the college campus. Mike is former Assistant Executive Director of Sigma Nu Fraternity and currently the Founder and President of BECK & CO., LLC. in Chicago. He is also a professional speaker with CAMPUSPEAK and travels the country presenting the RESPONSE ABILITY message on college campuses. For more information on Mike, visit

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