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    June 5, 2024

    From A Bystander to An Upstander

    Moving From the Sidelines

    Schools, workplaces, and community centers of every kind can be life-giving spaces for us all. These are where we gather to work, study, and build connective bonds with one another. It’s natural to expect that these will be safe environments, where the basic functions of society can unfold on a daily basis. In a world filled with tension and conflict, however, these spaces can unfortunately turn into danger zones at a moment’s notice.

    There are plenty of issues to keep an eye out for in any institution… Threats include the possibility of an intruder, an outbreak of violence, a panic attack, or a situation involving bullying and peer shaming. Someone around us may even be experiencing a more subtle, slowly developing issue, such as a gradual nervous breakdown. While serious, this kind of dilemma can often be hard to notice until it reaches a flash point. This is why it helps to have observant folks paying attention at all times.

    Really, we all need to be keeping an eye out for one another. When it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being of those around us, we must avoid playing the role of passive bystanders. It may go against our instincts, but we can learn to take the proactive stance of an upstander.

    Becoming an Upstander: Getting off the Sidelines

    Maybe the word upstander is new to you. Simply put, an upstander is someone who recognizes potentially harmful situations and musters up the courage to do something about them. In times of crisis or distress, the actions of upstanders can make a world of difference.

    Instead of apathetically observing the signs of harmful behavior or oncoming threats, upstanders get involved in the situation. They lend their energies to support victims, address perpetrators, and initiate positive change within their communities. These responsible citizens are vigilant, compassionate, and committed to taking responsibility for the environment we are all helping to facilitate. If we want a healthier atmosphere to function in, it’s best we all begin to enlist as upstanders together.

    What does it look like to be an upstander in practice, though? How can we adopt this mentality, and demonstrate it in our own settings when the “rubber hits the road?” Consider the following ideas to get off the sidelines and into a more watchful, helpful, constructive stance.

    Facets Of An Upstander's Approach

    ▪️ Recognize What Is Underway: The first step in becoming an upstander is to recognize signs of injustice or harm within your community. This may include instances of harassment, discrimination, violence, anxiety attacks, or depression.

    Keep your eyes peeled for folks who seem discouraged and alone, in need of attention. Watch for situations where people are lonely, discouraged, agitated, combative, or involved in suspicious behavior. Don’t assume that such conditions will improve right away.

    By staying vigilant and observant, you can identify situations where intervention may be necessary – before things begin to escalate.

    ▪️ Risk Taking A Step: Once you've noticed a potential threat or injustice, it's important to take action to address it. This may involve directly confronting perpetrators, offering support to victims, or alerting authorities or trusted adults who can intervene effectively. By speaking up and taking action, you can help prevent harm or decrease how much it is inflicted.

    This is where bravery is required. Choose ahead of time to be the kind of person who will put their neck on the line and find ways to stand up for others. If we all are too focused on our own reputations or self-preservation, we tend to hesitate too much when we need to take care of our community. We must adopt a commitment to push past our fears and step out of our comfort zones for the physical and emotional well-being of those around us.

    ▪️ Focus On Supporting Victims: Victims of bullying, harassment, violence, or mental health challenges often feel isolated and unseen. As an upstander, you can offer support and solidarity to those who have been targeted. This may involve reaching out to offer assistance, listening empathetically to their experiences, or advocating on their behalf. 

    It’s best not to wait until we notice someone suffering. Rather, focus on building trust and rapport with folks every day. Practice asking about others’ lives and paying attention to their stories. Convey that you are a safe, welcoming, caring person – and encourage others to do so as well. 

    Optimally, when conflict or harm does happen to someone, they will know they can open up to you about it. You can then empower them to seek the right channels for help and support.

    ▪️ Pursue Long-Term Solutions: In addition to addressing immediate threats or incidents, upstanders also work to create long-term change within their communities. This may involve advocating for policy changes, promoting awareness and education about bullying and violence prevention, or organizing community events and initiatives to foster a culture of safety and inclusion.

    The point is not merely that we would handle a difficult or chaotic moment well. The point is that we all work together to help build stronger, more resilient communities for everyone. When we practice living in this intentional mode, we can be more mentally prepared when trying situations occasionally occur.

    Getting Equipped To Report Issues

    One powerful tool that individuals can use to take action is the STOPit ARS (Anonymous Reporting System). This provides a confidential platform for students, employees, and community members to report safety issues and concerns anonymously. By removing fear of retaliation or stigma, this technology empowers upstanders to speak out and take action to address threats with fewer repercussions.

    Is someone around you clearly needing to talk to a counselor, but avoiding it? Is someone being mistreated? Are you hearing folks talking about someone behind their back in concerning ways? Do you notice someone without the proper authority carrying a weapon? With the click of a button, the ARS helps you quit wavering about how to respond and start getting information to the officials who can bring help.

    How does this work? Individuals can submit text messages, photos, or videos, which are then forwarded to administrators or other designated authorities for investigation and intervention. The ARS features a 24/7 Incident Response Center staffed by certified specialists. 

    The ARS continuously monitors, manages, and promptly notifies officials (including 911). In critical life-threatening situations, reporting specialists escalate alerts to assigned experts through email, text, and phone call notifications. By providing a quick and confidential way for safety concerns to be expressed, this whole system helps create a culture of accountability, transparency, and protection within schools and other institutions.

    As a result, 

    • fewer people’s crucial needs are neglected
    • major risks are averted before they begin to spiral
    • and crisis is dealt with much more promptly.

    STOPit also provides a platform called HELPme, pertinent especially to students in schools wrestling with anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation. This technology offers critical support through anonymous tips, help requests, and training to build mental and emotional resilience. Users can connect through it with crisis counselors 24/7, and access teletherapy services as well. Further, the "Get Help" feature connects youth to a wide variety of localized resources for various issues specific to each district’s unique needs and contact base.

    Embracing A New Posture

    Transitioning from being a bystander to an upstander is essential for creating more stable, peaceful, and supportive spaces. By recognizing suffering or injustice, taking action, and courageously supporting victims, upstanders play a crucial role in protecting their communities. With tools like STOPit’s Anonymous Reporting System, individuals can take proactive steps to swiftly address safety concerns and contribute to a more respectful society.

    Together, let's stand up and take the steps necessary to build secure and inclusive communities wherever we work, study, and enjoy recreation.


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