PSU bystander training promotes student safety

Teaching students how to intervene in difficult situations while minimizing risk to themselves is one way Portland State University is helping its students feel safer on campus.

To provide thoughtful, positive and inclusive resources to its community, Portland State recently relaunched “U Belong at PSU,” an umbrella campaign that highlights programs designed to make the campus community feel valued and accepted. 

Recent threats of violence near campus and national disclosures around sexual assault have left many PSU students wondering what they can do to help prevent future incidents.

Illuminiate Logo

PSU now offers a series of two active bystander training sessions to students that are delivered through Illuminate, an interpersonal violence prevention program housed in the Center for Student Health and Counseling. In these workshops students learn how to identify potentially unsafe situations. Then by watching videos, doing role play exercises and talking in small groups, they explore new ways to intervene that are less likely to further escalate situations.

“The vast majority of potentially dangerous situations can be defused and avoided through non-confrontational interventions, but most folks don’t know what they can do safely,” said Amy Kayon, relationship and sexual violence prevention coordinator at PSU. Kayon says that active bystander training doesn’t advocate escalating tensions or even necessarily confronting the assailant directly. “Sometimes creating a distraction, buying time or bringing in additional resources is the best and least risky way to help,” said Kayon, who has been doing interpersonal violence prevention for over 14 years. 

U Belong at PSU

Student training sessions are delivered by peer educators, an approach that is key to the program’s success. Since the training began in 2015, PSU has delivered active bystander training to over 4,000 students. Through partnerships with university housing, orientation, athletics and other groups on campus, 71% of incoming freshmen at PSU went through the training this fall. 

“I’ve had students in my workshops approach me afterwards and say ‘Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to the training at all,’” said Anastasia Hale, a PSU junior majoring in health studies who now serves as a peer educator for the program. “‘But now having gone through it,’ they’d continue, ‘I realize the value of it.’”

“U Belong at PSU” is a campaign that includes a comprehensive set of events, workshops, lectures and programs that embrace diversity and inclusion and encourage dialogue among people of different viewpoints on a variety of national, local and campus issues.

- Kurt Bedell, University Communications

Caption: Illuminate peer educators Caitlyn Malik and Anastasia Hale.

Front page caption: Illuminate team members Caitlyn Malik, Anastasia Hale, Eli Hess and Amy Kayon.