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On Campus: Voices Against Violence & BeVocal

Think of a time when you saw or heard of something that seemed problematic or harmful, whether or not you did something.

That was the first question a room full of people were prompted with last Tuesday at the University of Texas at Austin’s Interpersonal Violence Committee meeting, hosted by the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center’s Voices Against Violence program. The committee meets once a semester to share resources, ideas and connect on interpersonal violence prevention and response. While usually open only to UT Austin community members, they made an awesome exception for loveisrespect and we had the privilege of sitting in on the meeting.

So, back to that question. For me, it was a couple weeks ago at a bar with my boyfriend and some of his friends. As the night went on one of them thought it would be hilarious to tell a rape joke. My reaction was, “Oh, I don’t want to hear this” and I used that opportunity to go grab a drink. It must’ve been enough to get the guy thinking, because later he pulled me aside and we talked about it.

Did I intervene in the right way? Should I have made more of a scene?

September seemed like the perfect time for us to attend the UT IPV meeting. It’s National Campus Safety Awareness Month, and this meeting’s focus was on BeVocal, the Bystander Intervention Initiative of UT Austin.

Bystander intervention means choosing to respond to a potentially harmful situation or interaction in a way that positively influences the outcome. These situations can be anything from jokes about violence, to victim blaming or seeing someone use alcohol to take advantage of another person. To answer my own question, there’s no right way to intervene. Every situation is different.

For as many reasons as there are that people often do not speak up and intervene, there are tons of good reasons that people do. Here are some BeVocal gave us:

  • “I know it’s wrong and others are probably thinking the same thing.”
  • “I care about the person being impacted.”
  • “I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t do anything.”
  • “I would want someone to help me if I was in that situation.”

And for me, overhearing a joke that I found unacceptable, a joke that made me uncomfortable: “I’ll feel better knowing I did something.”

Madi, a loveisrespect advocate, also attended the event and summed up her thoughts:

“As a UT student and loveisrespect advocate, attending the University of Texas Interpersonal Violence Committee meeting was such an encouraging experience. Not only was it uplifting to learn about the Voices Against Violence program and the BeVocal initiative, it was truly inspiring to see so many UT community members, from various departments, coming together to build awareness around interpersonal violence. It is no secret that interpersonal violence is a problem on campuses everywhere, and having a program like VAV is such a step in the right direction. They are facilitating a safe space for students to speak up about interpersonal violence, and offering support for survivors that is necessary for the healing process. The BeVocal initiative is informing the community about action steps to take when witnessing concerning situations of all types, and actively challenging the “bystander effect.” From survivors to bystanders to the overall campus culture, VAV and BeVocal are educating and empowering the UT community to stand up, speak out, and break the silence. ”

To learn more, head to Voices Against Violence’s newly revamped website, get specific information about BeVocal, or contact one of their co-chairs: Erin Burrows, Voices Against Violence Prevention and Outreach Specialist, or Marilyn Russell, Coordinator of Sorority and Fraternity Life.

To learn more about what it means to be an active bystander, check out our Campus Safety Awareness Month blog post!

You can also head over to Cosmopolitan or the Texas Tribune to read about how the University of Texas, with programs like Voices Against Violence, has been a “model in getting it right.”