Green Dot Empowers Bystanders

By Henry Burnett

The week of Sep. 29 officially launched Green Dot, the College’s new program to prevent violence and promote student safety on campus. Director of Physical Education Noreen Pecsok, who helped implement the program, said the response from students has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s very empowering to watch [the students] put it into action and think ‘Yeah, I could do this on a Friday night,’” Pecsok said. “People love to come up and tell us that they’ve done a Green Dot or that they’ve seen a Green Dot. It’s spreading fast.”

Barbara McCall, Director of Health and Wellness Education, said she and other wellness staff have been working to establish Green Dot since summer 2014. According to McCall, Green Dot makes the College safer for all students.

“Last December we brought trainers to Middlebury and a team of 27 faculty and staff went through the four-day trainer certification. We spent probably a year and a half planning for the launch of Green Dot. Green Dot Week is signifying the campus wide launch,” McCall said. “The goal of Green Dot nationally and the goal of Green Dot on the Middlebury campus is to see the numbers of people affected by violence go down.”

Orientations Coordinator Amanda Reinhardt said the program is a new approach to violence prevention at the College.

“Green Dot is important for the wider Middlebury campus because Green Dot widens the focus of sexual violence from being on the victim and the perpetrator to focusing on all of
us bystanders,” Reinhardt said. According to the program website, Green Dot aims to “mobilize a force of engaged and proactive bystanders.” Pecsok said that Green Dot teaches students to use their words, choices or behaviors to stop a potential harmful situation and turn it into a healthy one. Example Green Dots listed on the website include spilling a drink on a friend if she is being pressured to drink too much, then taking her home to change or interrupting an arguing couple by pretending you lost your ID card, and asking one of them to let you in.

Katie Mayopoulos ’18 completed the Green Dot training last winter and now works with the program as an intern. She said Green Dot’s approach makes bystander intervention accessible to all students.

“It was a nice training because they weren’t trying to change you. They were like, ‘You’re fine just the way you are. We can work with you,’” she said. “Green Dot tells me that wearing my Green Dot shirt makes all the difference. It’s the very tiny things that make it happen and Middlebury is a tiny place, so it all adds up.”

Terry Goguen, ’16, said the Green Dot training gave him a new perspective of campus violence. One of three captains of the Men’s Ice Hockey team, Goguen said most people in his training two weeks ago were athletes.

“I definitely get the stereotype a lot of, ‘Oh, it’s just a dumb jock’ or, ‘Obviously [the party] is at Atwater because all the athletes live there.’ But it is interesting, because if you looked around the room at the Green Dot training, I’d say 80 percent of those people play a sport,” he said. “As athletes, we have a vehicle to reach a lot of people. Now I get to go to my team and they’re all like, ‘What’s Green Dot? What was the training like?’”

A bigger picture

Green Dot teaches students how to prevent violence, but students and staff said the work hard, play hard culture at the College contributes to “Red Dots.”

“Green Dot sort of takes the approach of, ‘You’re not going to stop people from drinking and partying,’ but it allows everyone at that party to be able to stop that potential Red Dot,” said Goguen. “I think it comes down to people learning what is acceptable and what isn’t and taking responsibility for their actions. You can’t just wake up and say, ‘Oh, I was drunk.’”

Mayopoulos, who also works as a First-Year Counselor, said she has felt the harmful effects of the College’s drinking culture.

“I can say for myself, there are certain places on this campus where I know I need to have an extra awareness of my surroundings for who’s pouring my drinks or where I’m getting my alcohol,” she said. “As an FYC I’ve had freshman come up to me already with accounts of, ‘This was super creepy that someone did this to me.’”

Ellen McKay, Administrative Program Coordinator for the Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life, participated in the staff training last December. She said there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of student stress and sexual assault.

“We sort of leap to an easy conclusion when we’re trying to get at why something bad happens, and there’s not an easy conclusion to most of these things,” McKay said. “Green Dot is just addressing one symptom of a much larger problem.”

But McKay added many students come to the College already struggling with a variety of outside issues.
“Is there too much stress on campus? Yes, I believe there is. There is absolutely no one silver bullet that is going to take away stress from this campus,” she said. “A lot of stuff is coming to campus. The campus certainly isn’t causing all these problems.”

Towards the future

No matter the cause of violence on campus, staff and students are confident Green Dot will make the College safer for all. McCall said while culture is important, Green Dot’s first focus is stopping the violence that could happen today.

“The short-term goal is to give people actionable tools and confidence, said McCall. “[The] long-term goal: create a campus community that’s inhospitable to violence.” Reinhardt said one part of the long-term solution is introducing Green Dot to students when they first arrive on campus.

“We started implementing Green Dot into Orientation last February with the class of 2018.5. As part of welcoming the class of 2019, Green Dot developed an introduction video, created by Zac Lounsbury ’15.5, to share with incoming students what Green Dot is and how they can be a part of it,” Reinhardt said. “For me, sharing Green Dot with the newest members of our community is a way that they can feel empowered to help us create a safer community.”

Mayopoulos has also helped introduce the Green Dot Program to First-Years.

“The freshman don’t have any perception of what happens on our campus, they haven’t lived here,” said Mayopoulos. “So if we right up front say, ‘We don’t tolerate Power-Based Personal Violence. You will not commit domestic violence, you will not stalk, you will not rape or sexual assault,’ I do think it kind of jolts a few people.”

She added, “I think a mindset happens, a kind of entitlement that I can do this to somebody. And I think that by us very forwardly saying, ‘We don’t tolerate this,’ it makes it a lot easier as a community to put pressure on those people who might feel entitled previously.”

McCall and Pecsok said the conversation about college culture is evolving, but for now, Green Dot relies on individual members of the campus deciding together to stop Red Dots before they occur.

“This is not the college fixing anything,” Pecsok said. “This is the community getting together and saying, ‘This is what we want’.”

“That’s at the core of this,” added McCall. “If we aren’t connecting as a community, we can’t work to make it safer.”

More information can be found online at go/greendot