A new UCC module encourages students to intervene in situations of social misconduct for the good of society, explains Louise Crowley

The university experience is a unique one; students at third-level are afforded a valuable opportunity to engage with their discipline of choice. However, while this progression to university incorporates a shift to independent learning and living, with it comes an exposure to enhanced social interaction, and a heightened level of perceived pressure to adapt to new social expectations.

Undoubtedly, a university campus represents an environment where students are afforded opportunities to develop not only academically, but also personally, at what is typically a pivotal time in their personal growth and self-awareness. To coincide with their new academic learning, UCC recognises the need to support students by providing for all aspects of their learning experience; encouraging them to develop academically and beyond, during their time at UCC.

Against this backdrop, UCC has developed a bystander initiative programme which recognises that every student in UCC has the capacity to consider others and to act for the benefit of their classmates and friends on campus. Broadly speaking, it endeavours to encourage students to recognise and better understand their role as contributors to a safer campus and ultimately a safer society.

A programme-based, credit-bearing academic module, to be introduced in January, it has the potential not only to enhance knowledge, but to also lead to attitude and behavioural change across the university. By engaging students with the issue of mutual respect and support through structured learning, the physical, psychological, spiritual, social, cultural, and welfare needs of students will be enhanced, resulting in the development of a progressive, effective culture, enhanced by an improved engagement with and amongst students on personal and social issues.

It is envisaged that a learning-based context for the development of a better understanding, and an expectation of respectful behaviour will lead to attitude and behavioural change across the campus for the benefit of the broader society.

Social misconduct, ranging from inappropriate language to sexual violence, is an unfortunate but undeniable aspect of modern society and is no less evident on university campuses across Ireland. Building on the university’s capacity to engage directly with its students, this programme will in particular address issues of sexual and domestic violence amongst students, by introducing to the student conversation and understanding, the dangers of the social normalisation of abusive behaviour and the related capacity of a bystander to intervene.

The material will address not only aspects of sexual behaviour and misconduct but also more broadly, issues such as personal assertiveness and social responsibility.

It will provide students with a safe environment to better understand social and inter-personal pressures while supporting the development of a visible institutional culture which stands against unacceptable behaviour and abuse, and cultivates a culture of positivity and support.

The bystander intervention approach is premised upon the fact that, as members of society, every person is a bystander to many events and is thus often positioned to act and/or intervene.

The over-arching objective of this programme is to facilitate students to develop a greater awareness of what constitutes unacceptable inter-personal behaviour and to cultivate the skills of appropriate and effective intervention, while at all times prioritising individual safety.

It is anticipated that individual and collective acknowledgement of the fundamental need for standards of respect on campus, and the associated identification and eradication of false consensus relating to disrespectful behaviour, will develop from this engagement.

The Bystander Intervention module will be piloted in the School of Law in UCC in January 2017. The module will be delivered in workshops of 12 students and will be facilitated by suitably trained and supported UCC-based facilitators.

Bystander interventions, and this programme specifically, are uniquely suited to reducing misperceptions in society and to challenge inappropriate behaviours that are perpetuated due to perceived social norms.

As such this programme has the potential to not only encourage and empower students to intervene in situations of violence but to intervene in any situations of social misconduct which are prevalent in their communities.

Developing this module and incorporating it into the UCC undergraduate student experience demonstrates a very real investment by UCC into the wellbeing of its students, and into the future professional and personal maturity of graduates of UCC.

Dr Louise Crowley is vice dean at the School of Law, UCC. She is part of a North-South cross-university consortium working to improve research and policies to address the challenge of sexual assaults and misconduct on Irish universities. The group currently involves NUIG, TCD, UCD, Queens, Ulster University, and others.


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