New video, workshop encourage peer intervention

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Melissa Osgood

It’s a typical Saturday night party, with friends chatting, playing cards, dancing – except for one couple kissing in the corner. The female student is visibly intoxicated, and the male student starts to guide her upstairs.

Two roommates are studying together late at night when one gets a phone call and leaves suddenly. He returns several hours later, disheveled and shaking from a hazing experience he had just endured.

Two friends meet for coffee. One of them receives persistent texts from her boyfriend, wanting to know what she is doing, when she is coming home, why she didn’t answer his last text right away.

These scenarios and others, based on actual experiences relayed by Cornell students, are featured in a new bystander intervention video, “Intervene,” developed by the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives at Gannett Health Services. The goal of the video is to help students learn how to intervene in such situations as sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, hazing, alcohol emergencies, emotional distress and bias. The video and accompanying workshop materials are grounded in social behavior theories and public health research, and have been rigorously evaluated to assess their effectiveness in increasing peer bystander intervention.

“Teaching potential bystanders how to intervene effectively is gaining recognition in college health as an important prevention strategy,” said Timothy Marchell ’82, director of the Skorton Center. “This video breaks new ground by modeling how students can make a difference in a range of situations. It encourages students to step up and act on behalf of others.”

Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, mental health promotion coordinator for the Skorton Center, noted that other bystander programs the university offers, such as “Notice & Respond,” “Friend 2 Friend” and “Wingman 101,” have helped foster a caring community on campus. “With ‘Intervene’ we hope to help students recognize and respond effectively to a variety of problematic situations,” she said.

Marchell said that, among its other goals, the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives was formed to provide institutional leadership on student health and well-being through the development of evidence-based prevention strategies. “This project involved both the creation and evaluation of an innovative educational tool. Our study is showing us how best to use this resource to make a difference in the lives of our students,” he said.

Skorton Center staff assessed the effect of the video when shown in the context of facilitated workshops and when viewed online. Four weeks after participating in the workshops, undergraduates reported greater likelihood of intervening in multiple scenarios portrayed in the video. After viewing the video online, undergraduate, graduate and professional students indicated greater willingness to intervene across several types of situations compared with control group students.

The online video and workshop wereboth effective at increasing students’ likelihood to intervene, which is encouraging,” said Laura Santacrose, a health initiatives coordinator at the Skorton Center, who led the 18-month project in collaboration with the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble. The script was developed with extensive stakeholder input, including student focus groups and surveys. “Student feedback was critical to making the scenes realistic,” noted Santacrose. The video was funded primarily through alumni contributions, and United Educators provided support for the program evaluation.

In January, Santacrose and Thrasher-Carroll announced the availability of the video and workshop at no cost to campuses nationwide at a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Conference. Colleagues at the conference were enthusiastic about having access both to the video and the accompanying facilitation guide.

“Part of the Skorton Center’s mission is public engagement,” said Santacrose. “This means sharing our knowledge and experiences with health professionals and researchers throughout the higher education community and beyond. We hope other communities will benefit from this new video.”

The “Intervene” project website provides access to the video, a facilitator discussion guide and a one-page program overview.


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Nancy Doolittle