UMass Amherst Launches Second Phase of UMatter at UMass Initiative to Build Community, Prevent Sexual Assault

January 22, 2014

Contact: Larry Rivais 413/545-0444

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst has launched the second phase of its campus-wide UMatter at UMass community-building initiative with a special emphasis this year on “active bystander intervention” to prevent sexual assault and other high-risk behaviors.

The campaign promotes a climate of community responsibility and teaches specific skills that students can use to intervene when sexual assault occurs or is threatened. The program also reaches out to prevent misuse of alcohol and other drugs, bias-related activities, bullying, hazing, harassment and violence, and depression and suicide, and to promote active bystander intervention around those issues.

“UMatter at UMass is a campus-wide initiative that encourages all of us to be active bystanders and to participate in the effort to create a caring and compassionate campus community,” said Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “Together we can create a caring campus culture and a firmer commitment to each other and our educational goals.”

Sexual assault on college campuses is a national concern with about 25 percent of female students reporting that they are victims of rape or attempted rape. The active bystander program uses “Three Ds” — Direct, Distract and Delegate — to guide the actions of anyone who may witness a sexual assault or an instance in which an assault is threatened.  “Direct” refers to direct responses to dangerous behavior in a clear, but non-confrontational way. “Distract” teaches techniques of diverting actions before they become harmful. “Delegate” is the path to take when a person hoping to prevent bad behavior needs help from an acquaintance or from health or law enforcement professionals. The same strategies can be used when witnessing other high-risk behavior.

Each technique will have a supporting video on the UMatter at UMass website at www.umass.edu/umatter using student actors to demonstrate the strategies. In addition, the campaign includes advertising on PVTA buses serving the area, posters in dorms and around campus, an ongoing social media presence, and campus events to be scheduled during the spring semester.

UMatter at UMass has already conducted information programs for faculty and staff and training for approximately 1,200 students and 450 on-campus resident assistants and residence directors. Training will expand in the fall to include approximately 4,500 incoming students.

The active bystander campaign was developed jointly by the Office of Student Affairs and Campus Life, the Title IX coordinator and Tile IX team, and Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, whose own efforts to combat sexual assaults are highlighted on his website, http://northwesternda.org.

Enku Gelaye, interim vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life, and Harry Rockland-Miller, director of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, have been leaders in presenting the UMatter at UMass concept to the campus.

“Our simple starting point was our determination to build a more caring community, cementing the idea that we care about each other at UMass and that we demonstrate that care without first having a crisis or tragedy,” Gelaye said. “With active bystanders, we want to reinforce a culture of active engagement. This is a very specific concept. The idea is that students have to take an active role in monitoring their environment and being engaged and caring about each other.”

Rockland-Miller said, “When people feel connected, we can reduce the risk of sexual assault, suicide, violence, problem drinking and other threats to safety.”

Gelaye said, “We need to give people hard skills they can use to prevent trouble in real-world situations. The UMatter at UMass active bystander program provides both the climate and the real-world skills.”

District Attorney Sullivan, a 1981 graduate of UMass Amherst, said “I am personally honored to be working closely with campus leaders to increase the safety, well-being and success of everyone on campus.

“I have no doubt that sexual assaults on campuses can be stopped if university administration, staff, students and law enforcement continue to work together to enhance understanding of what constitutes lawful behavior, increase reporting of unlawful behavior and hold offenders accountable.

“Collaborating together, we have been able to educate members of the community about the meaning of consent and the value of being an active bystander, about respecting and standing up for yourself and for your friends and neighbors,” Sullivan said.