BeVocal: The Bystander Intervention Initiative of The University of Texas at Austin

be vocal

What is BeVocal?
What is Bystander Intervention?
UT-Austin Bystander Intervention Initiative Partners
Get Involved
Addressing the Bystander Effect
History of BeVocal

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What is BeVocal?

BeVocal is a university-wide initiative to promote the idea that individual Longhorns have the power to prevent high-risk behavior and harm. BeVocal builds on the existing expertise of campus centers and departments at UT Austin and unifies these with consistent messaging and content. This means that while the issue or type of harm may vary in context, the promotion of intervention, the action steps, potential barriers and many resources will be consistent across issue areas. Our hope is that the reinforcement of bystander intervention by over fifteen campus partners will increase the odds of a UT student intervening to prevent harm as well as create a culture of caring for each other's well-being.

What is Bystander Intervention?

Bystander Intervention is recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome.

BeVocal Steps to Intervention
Bystander Intervention is recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome.

  1. Recognize Potential Harm
  2. Choose to Respond
  3. Take Action

Recognize > Choose > Act

Step 1: Recognize Potential Harm
What can harm look like?
BeVocal works with partners across campus to address harm, including but not limited to:

  • Concerning behavior
  • Academic integrity
  • High-risk drinking
  • Interpersonal violence
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Mental health concerns
  • Hazing
  • Harassment*
  • Hate speech*
  • Bias incidents*

*These behaviors may be expressions of racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, sexism and other forms of systemic oppression.

What is a harmful situation?
Anything that constitutes a negative physical, mental, social, or emotional response, affecting a community, a group of individuals, or a single person

What constitutes an emergency?
Anything that requires immediate or urgent response

Step 2: Choose to Respond
Choosing to respond is a tricky balance between the person and the context of the situation. There are a number of barriers that a person might need to overcome to be motivated and willing to intervene. BeVocal promotes strategies to help reduce these barriers and empower individuals to assume personal and collective responsibility.

Barriers to intervene

  • "I'm sure someone else will do something, so I don't need to." Also known as diffusion of responsibility, or the tendency to discount personal responsibility because others are involved. The more people present, the less one feels responsible to intervene.
  • "I'm not responsible, it's someone else's problem." Also known as displacement of responsibility, or a tendency to avoid accountability for taking action.
  • "No-one else thinks this is a problem so it's not a big deal." Also known as pluralistic ignorance, or when someone thinks everyone else accepts a norm and goes along with it.
  • "I'm afraid of what will happen to me if I do anything." Also known as fear of retaliation, or being afraid of negative consequences for intervening.
  • "I'll be embarrassed if I do anything." Also known as fear of embarrassment, or showing concern for bringing negative attention to oneself or others.

Motivations to intervene

  • "I know it's wrong and others are probably thinking the same thing."
  • "I care about the person being impacted."
  • "I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't do anything."
  • "I'll feel better knowing I did something."
  • "I would want someone to help me if I was in that situation."
  • "I have friends here who can back me up."

Step 3: Take Action
Direct Action: An overt or active approach to intervening that requires direct articulation or expression of concern with the situation

  • Ask questions/get clarity
  • Create a distraction
  • Talk/address directly
Indirect Action: Also known as a 'detour' approach involving less visible forms of intervening

UT-Austin Bystander Intervention Initiative Partners

Our aim is to create a shared understanding of bystander intervention that can be infused into existing departments and programs across the University of Texas at Austin such as:

Get Involved

E-mail us:
Contact the committee co-chair:
Marilyn Russell
Or join our Hornslink page to stay in touch.

Social Ecological Model

BeVocal seeks to work at multiple levels of the social ecological model (see McLeroy, 1988) addressing multiple issues of types of harm and enhancing individual level self-efficacy to intervene as well as collective responsibility and peer norms surrounding the importance of bystander intervention. We seek to shift the culture of campus with the promotion of intervention as a norm of our community, beginning at orientation and through graduation. BeVocal - that's what Longhorns do.

public policy, community cultural values, norms, schools environment ethos, interpersonal social network, individual knowledge, attitude, skills

Addressing the Bystander Effect

Many studies have been conducted to examine the "bystander effect," a confusing pattern of social behaviors observed during situations in which witnesses ignore potential or actual harm and choose to do nothing to help another person. Numerous experiments have identified a number of factors that differentiate helping versus not helping those clearly in need. Early studies on bystander behavior focused primarily on the impact of group dynamics on intervention in apparent emergencies. For instance, experimental studies found that participants who believed they were the only witness to an emergency were more likely to report the apparent incident than if they believed they were part of a larger group. The effect was found to be particularly significant when an experimental participant was in a group of strangers or research confederates. However, groups of friends displayed helping behavior similar to students who believed they were witnessing the emergency alone.

BeVocal incorporates existing evidence of what motivates or prevents bystanders from effectively intervening. These factors found to significantly increase helping behavior include group cohesiveness, identification with person being targeted, previous interactions between the person and the observers, and high feelings of witness competence. Conversely, barriers such as social influence, fear of embarrassment, diffusion of responsibility, fear of retaliation, and pluralistic ignorance can prevent a bystander from helping.

Ongoing Evaluation

There are many bystander programs being utilized nationally. Many that have been evaluated tend to be topic-specific, while more general bystander programs (i.e., those that promote a bystander intervention in a wide variety of scenarios) currently lack empirical support. We are committed to conducting a high level of evaluation of the BeVocal initiative to measure effectiveness and edit the content and delivery as needed for the UT student body.

Application to Four Year Graduation Initiative

We believe that a university-wide initiative which promotes the social norm of intervention during potentially harmful situations will positively impact the four year graduation initiative. As the initiative will not be housed in a single program or department, a student will have a greater chance of receiving the message and having that message reinforced through multiple issue areas which they may encounter.

UT students, faculty and staff will be positively impacted by:

  1. Increased awareness of the BeVocal initiative.
  2. Increase knowledge of the steps to bystander behavior (identify the potential harm, choose to respond, take action) and potential barriers (social influence, fear of embarrassment, diffusion of responsibility, fear of retaliation, pluralistic ignorance).
  3. Positive change in attitudes towards engaging in bystander behavior.
  4. Positive change in attitudes toward collective responsibility.
  5. Positive change in subjective norms toward engaging in bystander behavior.
  6. Positive change in perceived ability (or self-efficacy) to engage in bystander behavior.
  7. Positive change in intentions to engage in bystander behaviors in the future.

History of BeVocal at The University of Texas at Austin

  • One staff member from three different departments (Athletics, Dean of Students and the Counseling and Mental Health Center) attended the May, 2012 Train the Trainers Conference for the University of Arizona Step Up! Bystander Intervention Program. Staff members returned to UT and presented to the High-Risk Drinking Prevention Committee of the Wellness Network. This resulted in the formation of a Wellness Network Bystander Intervention Work Group in June, 2012 which has met monthly since then.
  • The Work Group collaborated with HPRC staff to add questions about bystander intervention to existing surveys. 7,912 incoming and transfer students were reached via the Alcohol.Edu and 1,208 students were reached via the National College Health Assessment (NCHA).
  • A retreat was held in January, 2013 with 15 members from departments across campus. A community readiness assessment and process logic model was developed, outlining our next steps in to move towards our vision of campus-wide usage of bystander intervention.
  • Informal focus groups were conducted with 174 undergraduate student leaders to assess experience and interest at UT Austin from February-March, 2013.
  • A research database of higher education and non-profit bystander intervention programs was compiled and distributed to Work Group members.
  • A pre-orientation video about bystander intervention was created and viewed by all incoming students.
  • A facilitation guide for the video was developed and utilized to train all student Orientation Advisers, who then facilitated conversations with all incoming students at summer orientation sessions, 2013.
  • The Bystander Work Group hosted a second retreat with 24 faculty, staff and students in July, 2013, to review core concepts, create UT-specific definitions including barriers and steps to intervening. This group collectively drafted and critiqued possible names and slogans.
  • In early fall, 2013, feedback about five possible names and slogans was collected from over 160 campus community members.
  • Bystander intervention workshops were piloted with student leaders from the Gender and Sexuality Center (April, 2013), University Unions (August, 2013) and Healthyhorns Peer Educators (November, 2013).
  • In September, 2013 the Bystander Work Group divided into three working sub-committees:
    • Content: Leader: Emily Shryock, Disabilities Services Coordinator, Services for Students with Disabilities
    • Creative: Leader: Frances Nguyen, Health Promotion Coordinator, University Health Services
    • Evaluation: Leader: Amanda Mabry, PhD Candidate in the Department of Advertising
  • December, 2013 the BeVocal was pitched to the Assistant and Associate Vice Presidents of Student Affairs and received accolades and support
  • January, 2014 the Work Group hosted the third bi-annual retreat and drafted a calendar for launching the initiative via a student logo competition scheduled for late March, 2014.
  • January, 2014 a research proposal to evaluate the campus prior to the launch of the BeVocal initiative was submitted to the Internal Review Board (IRB).
  • January, 2014 BeVocal met with staff from Trademark and Licensing to approve that name and partner on future marketing efforts.
  • February-March, 2014 BeVocal launched a campus-wide baseline evaluation study with 804 student respondents. Results will be released in Fall, 2014.
  • April, 2014 BeVocal launched a logo design competition for UT Austin students.
  • April 2014, BeVocal was mentioned in the The Daily Texan, The Austin-Statesman and in coveraged on KXAN and KEYE TV in response to the first report of the White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault which recommends bystander intervention programming on college campuses.
  • May, 2014 The BeVocal team narrowed down submissions and opened voting to the UT Austin community. Our new logo was designed by Dylan Schnurman, a class of 2016 major in the Department of Advertising.


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