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Stand Up, Step In and Speak Out
In someone’s time of need, what choice would you make?
Every day, victims of bullying, discrimination, sexual violence, drug abuse and hazing often suffer alone and may not always be able to help themselves—while others stand by and do nothing.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
“In these moments, we make a momentary choice. We actually choose are we going to take some kind of effective, appropriate and safe action in order to intervene to prevent that problem or diminish it to a manageable level … or are we going to walk away?” asked Mike Dilbeck, an advocate for what he calls “courageous leadership.”
“In other words, are we going to choose to be a bystander?”
Dilbeck, the founder of RESPONSE ABILITY, addressed new students in Goldstein Auditorium during four sessions, challenging them to think about the role of an empowered bystander. New students were required to attend one of the sessions of “Everyday Heroes” as part of Syracuse Welcome.
Through his words and a multimedia presentation, Dilbeck explored what he means by courageous leadership and finding power in oneself to “stand up, step in and speak out.”
At the start, Dilbeck read from the “Creed for Courageous Leadership” and asked students to stand if they heard something that resonated with them.
The verse includes such statements as “I stand for equality and consider the well-being of others as my own,” “I am brave and face situations despite my discomfort and fear” and “I refuse to walk away or stay silent or laugh along.”
By the last statement, all of the students were standing.
Dilbeck then challenged students to ask themselves if their actions and words match what they stand for.
Dilbeck shared his own story as an 8th-grade student who was confronted in a school hallway by a bully who yelled slurs at him. Dilbeck was devastated, immobilized and his friends deserted him.
“I couldn’t find the strength within me to [stand up for myself], … but we also want to hope in those moments that there will be someone, someone who will actually step in and stand up for you,” Dilbeck said.
People are reluctant to speak up because they are afraid and also are fed by naysayers to avoid or downplay the problem. What should drive us is our impulse to take care of others, he said.
“I believe we all have a moment in our lives when we see something happening that we know is wrong,” he said. “We hear something said that’s not appropriate, offensive, just not right. And our own moral compass tells us to do something, say something, yet we turn our back on who we are and do nothing.”
Dilbeck challenged students to develop their internal strengths of integrity, generosity, curiosity, equality, vulnerability and bravery. “You can now assess and develop those within yourselves,” he said.
The message resonated with first-year student Tori Cedar and reminded her of the work she did with a school group at her Catholic high school in New Jersey. “It reminds me of my home,” she said. The theme is about “everyday decency and respect” and the importance of leadership and the ability to stand up for what is right, she added.
“The foundation of the University’s violence prevention efforts is based on the empowered bystander model—or, to use Mike’s language, courageous leadership,” said Katelyn U. Cowen, director of the Office of Health Promotion. It’s an important message among many that the University shares with students in raising awareness and creating a culture of caring.
“Mike’s presentation is just one part of our comprehensive approach to violence prevention,” Cowen said. “We will be offering many opportunities throughout the year for students to become more informed and engage in dialogue about sexual and relationship violence.”
Through powerful messages, such as the one from Dilbeck, and dialogue among peers, students can become more mindful about their own role in reducing sexual violence, harassment and abuse. “These conversations help students feel empowered to effect change in their communities,” Cowen said.
After the presentation, Farrell Brenner ’17 offered several ways for students to be part of campus organizations as peer educators who work toward a safer community. Brenner, who introduced Dilbeck to the audience, is a peer facilitator in the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program through the Office of Health Promotion.
Along with MVP, students can volunteer with e5m, a peer theater troupe, and Sex-Esteem, a peer sexuality group. A student organization, A Men’s Issue, brings men together to promote a society free from sexual and relationship violence.
“Caring and vigilance should be a part of campus life,” Brenner said. “We can all be empowered bystanders.”