McGill’s first bystander program, Becoming an Active Bystander, was launched this March as a collaboration between Healthy McGill, Residence Life, and the Office of the Dean of Students. The program is comprised of a series of sexual violence prevention workshops and is a continuation of the consent campaign launched in fall 2014. The series aims to provide the McGill community with the tools necessary to recognize and address potentially harmful situations on campus that relate to sexual violence.
“The content can be applied to different scenarios,” Liason Officer (Harm Reduction) Bianca Tétrault, one of the main developers of the workshop, told The Daily. “It involves recognizing that the tools can be used to interrupt incidents of oppression, racism, [ableism], and sexism, and so on and so forth.”
The program is a series resulting from ongoing action to promote consent on campus, which has occurred in the wake of last year’s Redmen sexual assault case. Students can sign up on myInvolvement, an online portal, to register for the workshop. Two workshops will be hosted on March 30 and 31 on the downtown campus, and one will be held at MacDonald campus on April 8. Tétrault noted the possibility that there might be more coming up in April, and said the sessions will definitely be resuming in September.
The free workshop lasts three hours, which, once completed, means that attendants are certified as active bystanders in the community and will receive credits on their co-curricular record – a part of students’ official transcript.
The workshop talks about the importance of language and identifies the need to approach sexual violence intersectionally. It also addresses the ways in which power and privilege play a role in our ability to respond to potentially harmful situations, as well as one’s likelihood to become a target for certain harmful behaviours.
“We address the fact that, due to our culture of silence and secrecy, sexual violence continues to exist and go unchallenged.”
“We address the fact that, due to our culture of silence and secrecy, sexual violence continues to exist and go unchallenged,” said Rebecca Dales, the program’s Logistics Coordinator and one of the facilitators of the workshop. “Throughout the workshop, we avoid blaming participants for past decisions, but rather empower them to be more aware of these behaviours so that they can change in the future.”
Amanda Unruh, Health Promotion Officer at Student Health Services and one of the collaborators and developers of the program, said the series aims to look at ways of mitigating violence proactively, addressing it head-on, and providing resources and support after the violence has taken place.
In terms of prevention, Unruh also noted the importance of creating a sex-positive environment that allows for people to express their sexuality in a positive way.
Participants will also learn about what an active bystander is within the McGill community, and will be provided with the tools necessary to intervene safely and consensually. Recent media coverage of sexual violence will be reviewed and discussed, and participants will watch a video titled “Who Are You” to identify active bystanders in specific scenarios.
“The last hour of our workshop is dedicated to reviewing case scenarios where participants are able to discuss and think about how they will take what we have reviewed and put it into action,” said Dales. “We use scenarios that happen in our everyday lives within our community.”
“We recognize that we can give them all the information, but if they do not have the space to be able to practice [being an active bystander], when they are actually confronted with the situation in real life it is harder to be able to go forward and actually do something,” added Tétrault.