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Bystander intervention can defuse and deflect harm in social spaces.
A quick note: We’re taking this week off of the podcast to continue working on a special English/Spanish-language episode for next week. In the meantime, keep reading to learn why you should sign up for bystander intervention training.
People of marginalized identities have always been under threat. Deadly escalations like last week’s Atlanta spa shootings make it clear that that threat remains pervasive.
Systemically, we must redress the climate, rhetoric, and policies that lead to such horrific violence. And individually, we can recognize our role in intervening wherever possible, before a harmful situation escalates.
In 2018, I attended a drinks conference called Chicago Style. Over three days, leaders in the food and beverage industry led talks and panels on “promoting inclusion, equity, safety, and sustainability throughout the hospitality community.” The last day was dedicated to bystander intervention training.
This kind of training is unique in that it is both systemic and individualistic. Participants are taught safe ways to intervene when they see a potentially dangerous situation: In the context of hospitality, perhaps a bartender is receiving unwanted attention from a customer, or a manager is being sexually inappropriate. The training I went to—called Green Dot training—teaches observers how to intervene safely and to cultivate a culture where harassment is not tolerated.
The concept is simple, and its name evokes the visual metaphor of a map filled with red and green dots. The red dots represent moments of harm, and the goal is twofold: to flip red dots into green dots, and to populate the map with green dots so that a red dot doesn’t show up.
Flipping a dot from red to green might mean distracting someone as a bartender cuts off a drunk and disorderly customer. Creating more green dots can mean hanging a sign up in your venue that says “all folks are welcome here,” or putting two bartenders on shift so there’s always someone else around as backup. Such strategies are about intervention as much as they are prevention.
I have often been the person unsure of what to do in a harmful situation. Working in a public place like a coffee shop for almost 10 years means I’ve seen and experienced many uncomfortable interactions over the course of my career—and in the past, had no real language or strategies to deal with them.
Now, organizations like Hollaback!, which is dedicated to ending harassment, are making it easier to step in. Hollaback! has partnered with Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC to host a series of free, one-hour virtual bystander intervention training sessions. As spaces fill up, they add new sessions, and will guide attendees “through five strategies for intervention: distract, delegate, document, delay, and direct; and how to prioritize your own safety while intervening.” Hollaback! hosts additional events throughout the year that you can participate in. Many colleges and universities also have resources about how to be an active bystander.
This might be the first time you’ve come across bystander intervention training—when I attended the Green Dot training, I had never heard those words together before. I’d encourage you to take a moment to learn more about it. Take a class yourself, send your baristas or servers or bartenders to one, or even host an event virtually.
Such actions can make the difference between empowerment and hesitancy, safety and instability. As folks who work and engage in public spaces, hospitality employees have a unique vantage—and the ability to begin tippping the balance between those outcomes.
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