Conforming to social norms contribute to the bystander effect

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Resisting norms will likely prevent dangerous situations

Illustration by Tyler Carpenter  

Conformity, ambiguity and social and cultural norms are reasons people do not intervene, according to Ashley Larsen, the associate dean of students during the It’s On Us event Oct. 31 in the Student Life and Wellness building.

The bystander effect is a social phenomena that results in individuals being less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present.

“If you see other people not doing anything you are more likely not to do anything,” said Larsen. “Literally the more people that are around the less likely the individual is to step in and do something.”

It’s On Us is a national movement focused on providing training and to ultimately end sexual assault. UVU has partnered with the non-profit since 2014.

According to a study conducted by the NCAA in cooperation with the University of Arizona, the University of Virginia and the University of California, 88 percent of student athletes believe that a problem can be avoided if they intervene. Students that attended the event were also asked this question and the majority agreed.

“Everyone usually feels like it is their responsibility to step in,” Larsen said. She asked the audience why it is still such a challenge to intervene, if most people believe this.

According to Larsen, intervening can prevent more discrete violence such as microaggressions or homophobic and offensive gendered remarks

“Even being one person, that first person to step in will get others to do the same,” Larsen said.

Ambiguity is another reason people often do not intervene. Larsen explained that it can be difficult to know how serious a situation is or if anyone is in danger. “The best way to get rid of ambiguity is to ask. Step in and ask ‘is everything okay here?’”

“I almost think, go with your gut,” Jill Memmott,  an audience member and resident leader for the Center for the Advancement of Leadership said. “If the feeling comes up, it’s for a reason.”

Challenging authority is also a social norm that can keep people from intervening, according to Larsen.

“Challenging authority can be really hard,” Larsen said. “One of the effects of our culture, that is so influenced by the [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] is what I call, a culture of reverence,” said Larsen. “A lot of people who live here or grew up in the church are taught to always be very respectful to positions of authority and to be reverent and not rock the boat,”

“This event is something everyone needs to come to and that most UVU students need to hear because you never know when you are going to get thrown into a situation where you do need to step in,” said Rylee Peterson, a pre-law student.

“This is about creating a safe campus environment, ultimately,” Larsen said.

Strategies for Upstanding, a follow-up event, will be held for all students to attend Nov. 15 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. in SL 101.