Active Bystander Introduction & Overview

We all will encounter situations in which our values as individuals and a community are called into question. We hope that as Elon students, you will take on the responsibility of creating a safe and healthy community for all members. You may be faced with the choice to intervene and help stop a potentially dangerous or harmful situation – responding to a biased statement towards an individual or identity group, stopping someone from driving drunk, standing up to bullying behavior, or preventing sexual assault from occurring.  As a friend, partner, classmate, family member, etc. you are in a unique position to do something about harm when you see it. We encourage you to intervene anytime you notice potential or actual harm but especially in the following scenarios:

  • Identity-based biased language, harassment or discrimination
  • Substance use
  • Sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking
  • Harmful social or cultural norms, such as strict adherence to harmful gender stereotypes, victim blaming, pressuring others to take substances, or violent masclinity

At Elon we recognize that there are many different situations that call for action. Elon encourages students to step up and speak out against all words and actions that go against the values of our Honor Code and create harm for members of our community. In the sections below find out how to get more involved and learn new strategies to intervene today!

Get Involved

We have many different programs, initiatives and workshops that infuse bystander intervention Elon we recognize that there are many. We approach students as potential allies and potential leaders who create culture change within their communities and communicate knowledge and skills to help them do so.

Current initiatives include:

The Process

The Bystander Effect

In order to help students intervene, we have to realize that there are significant barriers to acting even when people want to “do the right thing.”  The Bystander Effect is a result of a diffusion of responsibility when many present to witness an event and therefore, assume that someone else will act. Other than size of the group, here are a few other factors that influence a student’s willingness to intervene:

  • Ambiguity: the more ambiguous the situation the less likely people will intervene
  • Group Cohesiveness: the need to behave in correct and socially acceptable ways, thus when other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate

Our goal is to start by helping students intervene when the risks are lower, for example, when a friend uses biased language unintentionally. If students feel more able and willing to intervene in less extreme situations, then they will build confidence and skills to intervene in higher stakes scenarios, such as saying something at a party when someone is being harassed or taken advantage of, or supporting a family member when confronting an abusive relative.

The image below describes the process we use to help students learn to intervene.

Process diagram for bystander intervention.


We encourage students to consider all of their options when intervening in a potentially harmful situation and to prioritize their physical safety and the physical safety of others.

Warning Signs

Below are examples of what bystanders or friends may notice for people experiencing the following issues:

Alcohol Poisoning

  • Irregular or shallow breathing
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Vomiting
  • Passed out
  • Blue and purple mucous membranes
  • Seizures
  • Won’t wake up or unresponsive

Alcohol Abuse

  • Regular binge drinking
  • Impact academic or job performance, relationships and physical health
  • Drinking and driving
  • Legal problems
  • Experimenting with other drugs
  • Using alcohol to cope with stress or grief
  • Memory problems

Alcohol Dependence

  • Drinking alone
  • Craving
  • Significant tolerance
  • Frequent blackouts (amnesia)
  • Withdrawal
  • Making decisions based on alcohol
  • Frequent hangovers
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Concerning mental health symptoms

Sexual Violence

  • Feeding someone drinks
  • Sexually aggressive language
  • Victim blaming
  • Trying to get someone alone
  • Coercive behaviors
  • Threats or manipulation

Relationship Violence

  • Commenting about their significant other’s jealously
  • Having scratches, bruises, or other injuries
  • Wearing long sleeves, scarves, or clothing that doesn’t make sense for the weather
  • Delaying going to see their partner
  • Reporting in to partner regularly when they’re not together
  • Experiencing lower self-esteem, becoming increasingly insecure, or self-deprecating, over-apologizing
  • Having a general marked change in behavior


  • Ignoring a ton of calls or texts
  • Changing their route to class
  • Requesting a room change
  • Not wanting to go anywhere
  • Avoiding places they used to enjoy going to
  • Increase anxiety about safety and paranoia
  • Telling you they’re missing property or things of theirs have been stolen
  • Changing their phone number or email and asking you not to share it
  • Deactivating social media accounts
  • Asking others not to post information on social media which indicates who they are with or where they are

Survivors & Victims of Violence

We recognize and support that there is no one or correct way that individuals respond to trauma and violence perpetrated against them. Below are examples of common responses to violence.

  • Loss of sleep
  • Changes in appetite or patterns of physical health
  • Nightmares
  • Irregular emotions or lack of emotions
  • Fatigue
  • Self-blame
  • Changes in desires about sexual interactions
  • Gaps in memory or forgetfulness


  • Forced consumption of alcohol or other drugs or liquids
  • Cleaning organizational member property or running erreands for members
  • Purchasing items for members
  • Physical labor
  • Secrecy of events
  • Justifying activities by saying “it’s tradition”

This content was adapted from various sources including: Samuel Merritt University and UNC-CH.