Although racist, xenophobic and gender-motivated incidents are not new in Eugene, these acts of aggression have more than doubled over those reported during the same period in 2016, according to data from the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights.
Heated confrontations are challenging, and many unknown factors like anger and alcohol can exacerbate these public situations —making it very difficult to step in for fear of retaliation and safety.
To help address this issue, a group of community members met Aug. 24 at Temple Beth Israel to attend a three-hour bystander-upstander intervention training.
Led by Nadia Telsey, the group of 25 people discussed local and national hate and bias incidents that have been recorded and on the rise since the 2016 election. Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ), a social justice nonprofit, has compiled training materials to assist people who, finding themselves in a heated public situation, may want to help.
The three-hour workshops combine discussions, role-playing scenarios, videos and group sessions on how to safely intervene in the event of a targeted attack against any marginalized community member. The group listed a number of people who have been the subject of harassment, including the elderly, children, people of color, women, religious minorities — the list goes on.
The workshop began with Telsey going over the safety aspects of any situation, such as knowing where the exits are, being aware of the danger the harasser may present and keeping an eye out for other potential witnesses.
Ginnie Lo attended the workshop after hearing about several incidents of harassment, as well as the stabbing on the MAX train in Portland. “I just think it’s important because there are so many incidents of harassment and hate lately and also because it brings us together as a community to come together and say we won’t tolerate this and we will work to prevent those,” she says.
Telsey told attendees who may try to intervene as a bystander to remember to breathe, keep soft eye contact and stand in the “balance position” — a stance with one foot slightly in front of the other that helps prevent someone from being easily pushed over.
The group also reenacted incidents that have occurred throughout the U.S. All participants, at different points, played the role of the harasser, target, intervener and bystander. A bystander is a person who may happen to witness a public conflict, and an intervener is someone who speaks up in the moment of conflict. In this workshop, people in either role can choose to step in safely and help the person targeted by a harasser.
Bruce Kreitzburg says he learned to focus on the target of the harassment during the workshop. Kreitzburg says before the training he thought his options were to not intervene or to confront the harasser. “And what I took away was actually you don’t have to confront the harasser; you need to be aware of the harasser; you need to be cognizant of what’s going on, but keep the focus on helping the target — which might be as simple as offering some kind words or offering to escort somebody away from the situation where they are being harassed or abused.”
Pat Bryan, a member of SURJ, says she thought the workshop was great. “In addition to of course wanting to think about preparing myself should I ever see any kind of conflict that I felt that I could step in and make a difference, I think just in general I’ve been wanting to build my brave muscles.”
Workshop instructor Telsey says it’s always important to know your own triggers. “Know what your goals are if you’re going to engage with them, what are you hoping to accomplish. I would focus on the person being harassed and keeping a safe distance.”
Telsey adds that the workshop is becoming more popular and there are many people who are waitlisted and is in need of volunteer teachers. If you would like to help, contact SURJ at firstname.lastname@example.org.