PLU program equips student leaders to be active bystanders on campus and beyond

Posted by: Date: September 16, 2016 In: , , , ,
Students march in Take Back the Night in April 2015 on campus.

Students participate in the annual Take Back the Night march, aimed at raising awareness around violence and sexual assault, in April 2015. Take Back the Night is another way to empower bystanders on campus to intervene in troublesome situations. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

By Brooke Thames '18
PLU Marketing & Communications

TACOMA, WASH. (Sept. 16, 2016)- Miya Higashiyama ’17, a sexual assault survivor, says Pacific Lutheran University’s commitment to bystander awareness is an essential and necessary component of campus culture.

The Lutes as Active Bystanders program provides ongoing training each year to empower students to stand up for their peers. It teaches student leaders how to intervene in problematic situations — from sexual assault, stalking and partner violence, to microaggressions and racist jokes. Alcohol consumption and hazing also constitute potentially harmful behaviors in which intervention could be necessary.

The training, an extension of the university’s mission that focuses on care for the community, aims to keep Lutes from experiencing harmful situations such as the one Higashiyama faced at a party her first year of college.

“Active bystander training makes students more educated about sexual assault so that they’re not afraid to talk about it,” said Higashiyama, a vocal advocate for fellow survivors. “I think it creates student camaraderie and student education, (which) allows (for) a safer school and a safer community.”

Whatever the circumstance, Lutes as Active Bystanders helps students think critically about potential scenarios that could happen on campus and prepares them to confront such scenarios.

“We talk about sexual assault and microaggressions in the PLU context,” said Jennifer Smith, Ph.D., director of the Center for Gender Equity. “We also highlight consent and what that looks like with PLU’s code of conduct.”

The university’s active bystander training equips students with an arsenal of language to help them with intervention. Tolu Taiwo, outreach and prevention coordinator for the CGE, says students tend to identify most with the so-called three Ds: direct, delegate and distract.

Each “D” represents a different method of active bystander action — direct and confront the situation head on, delegate the situation to someone willing to help or distract in an effort to diffuse the problematic situation.

The training also introduces participants to common ways in which a bystander’s ability to intervene may be hindered, such as the tendency to victim blame or ignore problematic situations due to uncertainty. 

Lutes as Active Bystanders typically applies to large organizations of students, such as first-years, transfer students and athletes. The athletic department harbors a particularly strong connection to the Lutes as Active Bystanders program. This year marks the fourth year of annual bystander training for athletes and their teams.

“(Athletics) approached us about doing the training because they saw that it was valuable and an extension of their mission,” Smith said. “It gets more student leaders to know how to be an active bystander.”

New Student Orientation guides were new to bystander training this year, and the program coordinators hope to expand to other student leadership groups. “We’re trying to get more students to understand what it means to be an active bystander,” Smith said.

Although the general message of the training remains the same, topics change year to year to adapt to shifting campus culture and input from faculty and staff. Two recent additions to the program include units that equip students with language to help them interact with transgender students and deal with microaggressions in peaceful ways.

“Microaggressions and transgender students are (topics) we don’t typically talk about,” Taiwo said, so we wanted to make sure we highlighted those this year.”

Volunteers organize and execute Lutes as Active Bystanders training. The group of students and staff members coordinate all logistics.

“The coalition is an amazing group of people who have volunteered to train outside of their work responsibilities,” Smith said. “We want to communicate that (bystander training) is a university-wide program that we couldn’t run without support from students and staff.”

Bystander Coalition

The Bystander Coalition is dedicated to building a healthy, safe and equitable campus. Students, faculty and staff who are interested in joining are encouraged to email Tolu Taiwo at for more information.