Dr. Alan Berkowitz spoke on campus this week to discuss bystander prevention and changing campus culture.
Berkowitz has traveled speaking with college campuses, Greek organizations as well as the military. His approach to discussing social norms stands out from the typical programming that high schools and some colleges bring to campus.
He presented four different lectures, one of which was titled “Changing Campus Culture: Taking Action to Promote Healthy and Respectful Communities,” that took place in Ferris Lounge on Monday night, Oct. 24.
Berkowitz encouraged audience participation and had attendees speak to one another about times that they wanted to get involved in a situation, but were too afraid to intervene.
After going through the four stages of bystanders, Berkowitz explained the idea of pluralistic ignorance, in which people in the majority believe they’re in the minority, creating what he called “a spiral of science.”
One example of this happening was a middle school where several eighth grade girls were pregnant. In a survey that the same girls took, most wrote that they thought the majority of girls in the grade were having sex, when in fact the vast majority of girls in the grade weren’t. This put the girls in a more dangerous situation, thinking that they were out of the ordinary if they were not engaging in sex.
He then gave multiple options for what to do in these types of situations, and how each approach can work. These approaches largely spoke to being confrontational in a non-threatening way, and using group mentality to ensure that the provoker knows that they’re in the minority.
Berkowitz explained that sympathetically asking people who are engaging in racist or sexist behavior why they’re doing or saying the things they are can help with understanding how to de-escalate the situation.
In response to the coverage of sexual assault in the current election, Berkowitz is hopeful for future change. He points out that problems like alcohol abuse are overestimated in these situations, while the harassment and assault of women tends to be underestimated.
“So I think independently of the political decision that the American people have to make, the fact that this issue is coming to the surface is really good. Even though it’s a difficult issue, and may even remind people of really painful things that have happened in the past that they haven’t healed from, but even that is good because then you realize, ‘I’m still carrying this. I haven’t gotten over this,’” he said.
He pointed out the danger of victim-blaming in sexual assault cases several times. Only four to seven percent of sexual assaults are false allegations, despite people believing false statistics that say half of allegations are false.
“Our responsibility is to believe victims,” he said.
He pointed out the backlash that the women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault are already experiencing, and the importance of taking their accusations seriously.
Berkowitz values more collaborative approaches, where several different people from varying organizations and departments work together to discuss issues on campus and in town. He pointed out that programs like DARE are ineffective, and the government is now regulating what kind of sexual assault prevention programs will be funded.
“But it’s like when people care, when they want to feel like they’re doing something, they very often do things that aren’t effective,” he said.
He hopes that schools will utilize more programming like his, and applauded Knox for already utilizing collaborative efforts in their sexual assault reporting.
“So we can feel good about what we’ve done but we can’t think that we’re finished.”