Program hopes to stop violence

Green Dot uses the power of peer pressure to change a culture.

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WALLA WALLA - If Barbara Maxwell could choose the color of hope, it would be green.

Maxwell, an associate dean at Whitman College, is helping bring "Green Dot" founder Dorothy Edwards to Walla Walla as the featured speaker for the Community Violence Prevention Conference on March 29 and 30.

The strategy of Green Dot - an agency based in Kentucky - is to teach a form of violence prevention that uses the power of peer pressure to change a culture.

When people are empowered through the concept, magical things can happen, Maxwell said.

The model targets all community members as potential bystanders - bystanders who can come to the aid of others - and seeks to have people become invested in the safety of those around them by awareness, education and skills practice.

Specifically, the program uses influential and respected people from various community groups who, after training, will be at the center of a massive ripple effect.

By using what they've learned, this core group begins to model ways to address immediate and potential harm through engagement, delegation and distraction.

Others see, emulate and teach still others, the associate dean pointed out.

Whitman College has been using the concept for two school years, Maxwell said. Like every other college, it has challenges with "power-based personal violence." Into that category falls stalking, partner violence and sexual assault, she said.

Those are the "red dot" behaviors that can plague college campuses when left unchecked and negatively change the course of students' lives, Maxwell explained. The same goes for middle- and high schools, and the community at large.

Her students have taken to the idea of being green dots in a big way, she said. They leave the training feeling like they finally know what to do when they see things such as inappropriate touching or sexual aggression. "Or any behavior that makes our campus unsafe or one that allows a red dot behavior to stand without intervention."

Basically there are three methods to employ to turn those situations around, Maxwell said.

One way is to delegate. Say you don't feel able to tell a fraternity brother he's acting like a lout at a party. Green dot teaches you to find someone who can, like the host of the event or a resident assistant.

Direct intervention, however, is called for in high-risk situations and is a second leg of the strategy.

Third is distraction. That happens when a bystander can diffuse or change a situation because he or she was paying attention, Maxwell said. Starting a conversation with the potential perpetrator or asking for help - "This video game isn't working right. Can you take a look at it?" - allows a would-be victim to leave or gives notice to the power-holder that others are around and watching.

What she and other Whitman officials are finding is that the Green Dot program is so successful at Whitman that students are intervening early, "so we are not even getting to high-risk situations. When a student sees a friend who is intoxicated, they are removing them from situations before anything can happen to them."

The number of self-reported and anonymous sexual assaults at Whitman has dropped over the past two years, Maxwell said. "One counselor asked me how many reports we're getting and I told her ‘very few.' And no one was coming in to see her about it."

The beauty of a program such as Green Dot at Whitman is it cashes in on the bonds kid build in such a tight community, the associate dean pointed out. "They really care about each other."

The hope is the concept will spread in Walla Walla. Conversations are going on with local school districts, Maxwell said. "I hope they will send teams of people to hear Dorothy."

Maxwell says she has become a much more active bystander since helping incorporate the Green Dot program. "I walk up and ask people, ‘Are you OK? Do you need help?'"

She likes to applaud her students when she sees the same thing in them, she said. "I make a huge deal out of it. Because when a student does that, it's hard to get credit for that because you stopped something before it happened."

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