HOUSTON - If you witnessed hate or abuse, would you know what to do? From police brutality to the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes this past year, much attention has been put on identifying problematic behavior in the world around us. A Houston-based non-profit now offers a free monthly training on how bystanders of all comfort levels can help.
Bystander Training 101 is a monthly interactive webinar, offered by the Houston Coalition Against Hate, and designed based on more than a decade of research from the non-profit, HollaBack!.
"We are here to center ourselves, focus ourselves on taking care of the person who's experiencing the harm in that moment," says Jorge Arteaga, Deputy Director for HollaBack!.
Since their founding in 2005 as a blog to document street harassment in New York City, Arteaga says HollaBack! has mapped more than 15,000 stories of street harassment from all over the globe. His team noticed that the only good thing that ever happened to people experiencing harassment was when somebody stood up for them.
Based on this research, Bystander Training 101 dispels the fear that you have to get directly involved to effectively help someone being targeted.
"You don't have to stop at put an ‘S’ on your chest, strap a cape on, and do some huge heroic gesture," explains Arteaga. "There are simple actions that I’m sure many of us have thought of, or actually done in some cases, but we didn't even think we were doing something to help the other person."
A big emphasis of what the program teaches centers around safety. As Arteaga explains, "we can always have our intentions in the right place, but we want to make sure we own the impact, not only that it's going to have on the people, but also that it could potentially have on us. We don't want you to put yourself at risk. We tell you at the beginning, assess your safety."
The training offers five different avenues for supporting a victim of harassment or hate. Four of them are indirect ways to help, like documenting what's going on; a bystander action that proved its power in the case of George Floyd, when bystander footage inspired a historic movement pushing against police use-of-force policies.
"Definitely one of the most powerful tools when used properly," Arteaga says. The training goes over best ways to safely get pictures or video of an incident, and the most effective way to handle that content after the fact.
For those who are naturally non-confrontational, or who do not feel they can safely take action at the time they witness the act of hate or harassment, the training offers a variety of options. One of them is to work on a delay; approach the victim after the danger has cleared to provide comfort or offer help. Even if there’s a language barrier, research between HollaBack! and Cornell University found even a silent knowing glance toward the victim can reduce the traumatic impact of what happened.
The Bystander Training 101 webinar takes the position that standing up against small acts of hate or bias helps ensure a community message of support. They believe it helps fight against a culture that might escalate to more violent acts.
The interactive training includes practice, with polls allowing you to anonymously share which of the action steps you would use. They aim to develop your confidence by showing there's many right answers, which all provide value. Doing the less-common thing might mean helping develop a more rounded response.
Private messaging lets you submit questions to instructors that you might be otherwise embarrassed to ask in front of others.
The virtual course was designed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in direct response to a rise in anti-Asian sentiment in America. But, it doesn't just focus on xenophobia.
"We try to cover, across the board, all identity based harassment in our training," says Marjorie Joseph, Executive Director of the Houston Coalition Against Hate.
The Houston-based class now regularly attracts attendees from across the country. Marjorie says this has been exciting, and proof of what the virtual space has allowed them to achieve in terms of reach.
Bystander Intervention 101 is offered monthly online for free through the Houston Coalition Against Hate. It’s made available in partnership with The Four Freedoms Fund, OCA-Greater Houston, and HollaBack!
To sign up for the webinar, visit houstonagainsthate.org.