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October 18, 2010

What Will They Do? Bystander Intervention Training for Virginia Tech Student-Athletes

By: Reyna Gilbert

As you enter a residence hall, you see a couple who appear to be extremely intoxicated stumbling down the hallway. A few minutes later, you hear a struggle and the woman screaming “Somebody help me!”

This may seem like a situation from an episode of ABC's hit television show What Would You Do, where ordinary people are put on the spot with ethical dilemmas and hidden cameras track their responses. But this an actual scenario from the Mentors in Violence Prevention training guide.

Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) is a leadership program that encourages students to play a decisive role in solving problems in social settings specifically related to gender violence. The training is focused on an innovative “bystander” model that empowers each student to take an active role in promoting a positive community.

This year, Virginia Tech student-athletes will be tackling scenarios like the one above, as well as many others related to sexual assault, relationship violence, alcohol and consent and sexual harassment through the MVP program. In fact, the incoming freshmen and transfer student-athletes have already had the opportunity to do so.

In July, new members of the football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s soccer and volleyball teams took part in the program. During the third week of September, new student-athletes from the remainder of the athletics teams also had the opportunity to raise their awareness, challenge their thinking, participate in open and honest dialogue and become empowered, which are the four goals for the MVP program.

Since 1998, the Virginia Tech athletics department has required incoming student-athletes to attend the Sexual Assault Facts & Education (S.A.F.E) personal development program that focuses on healthy relationships, sexual violence, stalking and cyber stalking. In an effort to increase program effectiveness and engagement among the participants, the athletics department jumped at the opportunity to try a new program with proven success. MVP has also played a role in educating the Marine Corps, Air Force and U.S. Army and several professional sports teams, including the Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies and New England Patriots.

The Women’s Center at Virginia Tech was the true driving force behind bringing the program to campus. Meghan Weyrens Kuhn, student conduct coordinator in the Office of Student Conduct, and Jennifer Underwood, victim services outreach coordinator at the Women’s Center, were instrumental in the planning and preparation of the MVP-CLI training and also took part in the training themselves.

“The MVP curriculum resonates not only with the students who participate in the training, but also the trained professional staff members,” Weyrens Kuhn said. “The material allows professionals from across university departments to engage with students on tough topics in ways that empower students to step in and create change.”

In February, 30 campus administrators, including two from the athletics department, took part in a three-day program and were trained to facilitate the MVP curriculum as a part of the Mentors in Violence Prevention-Campus Leadership Initiative (MVP-CLI). The CLI adapted a customized version of the MVP program for use with a variety of campus groups through the U.S. Department of Justice Violence Against Women Act Grants.

As a victim advocate and violence prevention educator, I am inspired to see so many people from across campus come together to help prevent violence against women,” Underwood said. “The time and dedication these facilitators put into working with the student athletes is amazing, and I am thankful for the difference they are making with our students and in the community.”

One of the many benefits of the MVP curriculum is that it offers a variety of programming topics from sexual harassment and unhealthy relationships to electronic harassment and homophobia. This year, for the first time, Tech coaches will determine which program will be most beneficial for their teams, and the sophomore, junior and senior student-athletes will be taking part in MVP training to meet a portion of their personal development requirements.

The goal is for student-athletes to receive information on a variety of topics during their tenure at Tech, thus better preparing them for what life has in store. While the hope is that none of them will have to use the intervention techniques taught in the MVP program, the reality is some will. The Office of Student-Life believes that MVP will equip student-athletes, so they will know what to do when those situations arise.