Bystander Intervention

Did you know that 70% of UChicago students believe they have a responsibility to contribute to the wellbeing of others?

Whether you see a friend who has had too much to drink, a housemate who seems sad and withdrawn, or a fight between two strangers on the quad, as a member of the UChicago community you have a role to play in creating a safe, healthy campus environment. This page will help you be better equipped to do that in a safe, effective way.

Bystander Effect        
The 4 Ds of Bystander Intervention
When to Intervene
Other Tips for Intervention

Bystander Effect:

The bystander effect is a phenomenon in which we are less like to intervene in risky situations when we're in a group than when we're alone.  Research has found that this is for two main reasons.

One of the major causes of the bystander effect is confusion regarding the situation, and whether or not it is truely dangerous. When we're unsure about what we're witnessing, we look to others around us to gauge their reactions to an incident, and they are often taking pause for the same reason, leaving us all frozen and inactive.  For example, imagine you see two fellow students in a heated argument.  Your first instinct might be to step in and try to stop the fight, but if you are in a room full of people ignoring them, there is a good chance that you'll think there must be a reason no one else is saying anything and be too uncomfortable to speak up. Unfortunately, everyone in the room could be equally concerned, but because they're all looking to each other to determine what to do, no one will act. By being willing to step up and say something, you can help to eliminate that discomfort and create a campus culture where helping others is the norm.

 Even when we recognize that something is wrong, we may still fail to intervene because we don't feel responsible for the person at risk. Now imagine that one of your housemates or classmates seems depressed. If you were the only person who interacted with them, it would be 100% your responsibility to say something, but since you're part of a community, much less of the responsibility is yours. You might assume that someone else who is better qualified or close to this person will help, but if everyone assumes this, no one will offer their support.  Here at UChicago, we believe that each of us is 100% responsible for helping those around us, and encourage you to get involved.  

The 4 Ds of Bystander Intervention

One of the best ways to overcome the concerns and fears that keep you silent is to have strategies on hand for intervening. That way, you don’t have to think as much about what to do, whether to do it, when to do it, etc. You’ll simply be prepared to act when you need to. The 4 D’s of intervention can help you begin to develop effective intervention strategies.

Direct – You can be direct when confronting a situation where someone else is being harmed or at risk of being harmed. In the case of witnessing a fight, the direct approach might involve asking the students who were fighitng if everything is alright, or asking the other students in the room if they are as uncomfortable with the situation as you were.  In the case of a depressed housemate, a direct approach might be letting them know you are concerned and asking if you can walk to Student Counseling Service with them. 

Distract – In a situation that involves more than one person, you can also distract one or both people involved.  In a fight, this can allow people to cool off, and in cases of sexual violence, it can create an opportunity for the potential victim to get away. Distraction can also be useful for talking to friends with mental health concerns in addition to encouraging them to seek professional help.  For example, if you suspect someone is suffering from an eating disorder, you can encourage that person to see themselves as more than just their eating disorder by talking about other aspects of their lives. The goal of distraction is to interrupt the harmful behavior, not necessarily to confront it. 

Delegate – You can delegate the task by looking for people to back you up when its time to intervene. Depending on the situation, that could mean asking for help from fellow party goers when you witness a fight or see sexual violence, or letting your RA or RH know that you have a housemate who is depressed or struggling with eating concerns. If you are unsure who to contact for help with a particular problem, check out the additional resources section on any of our pages for some ideas. Delegating is great because it can create a shared sense of responsibility among community members.

Delay – If the first 3 Ds don't work for you or your situation, if you need to gather more information from an outside source, or if you feel like you missed an opportunity to intervene, don't panic. You can also use a delayed response, such as following up and asking if someone is okay after the fact. The important thing is to show you fellow students that you care and are there to support them. 

When to intervene:

Once you know the 4 Ds, the possibilities for intervening to support your fellow community members are endless. The first step  is recognizing when there is a problem.  Trust your instincts, and if something doesn't seem right to you, say something.  Below are some examples of times when it is appropriate to step in as well as some links to pages that can help you understand the signs of some common problems you might be witnessing:

Other Tips For Intervention:

  • Learn more about confidential on campus resources here
  • Approach everyone as a friend
  • Don't be afraid of rejection
  • Don't be antagonistic
  • Be honest and direct whenever possible
  • Don't be afraid to engage the help of friends
  • Avoid using violence
  • Keep yourself safe
  • If things get out of hand or become too serious, contact emergency services.
  • Know that, like all things, intervention gets easier with practice.
If you are having any difficulties or concerns, consider contacting the professionals at Student Counseling Services. For immediate help or safety concerns, call the UChicago Police at 773.702.8181. Click here to find more important phone numbers.