phrase racism is pandemic on signboard
Anti-Racism, K-12

The 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention

With the trial of Derek Chauvin in the news, as well as numerous stories of horrible aggressions toward Asian-Americans here, I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks thinking about how I would handle such a situation as a bystander. I am not brave, by any means, but would like to think that I would find some way to try to help the victims – especially considering my own past of being assaulted while people stood by.

I am grateful to have recently discovered these resources from Hollaback, “The 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention.” The organization provides training on using The 5 D’s, so if you belong to an organization that could partner with them, you may want to reach out to them to see if they can help your community. In the meantime, just reading through the 5 D’s along with examples has helped me to feel more empowered to act if I encounter a situation. Before seeing these, my first impulse would probably have been, “Direct,” which I would then cower away from because I am terrible with confrontation. But I now see “Distract” as a better option – not only for me, personally, but also as more likely to de-escalate a situation. Unfortunately, that would not have helped in the case of George Floyd, but neither did “Direct.” The bystanders in that case, especially the brave young woman who chose to “Document” what was happening, were unable to save Floyd from being murdered but did what they could. They will forever be haunted by what they witnessed, but those who attempted to stop this tragedy will at least know that they stood up instead of just standing by.

It would be helpful to give direct training to young people, at appropriate levels for the age groups, so that they practice using each method and identifying when each would be the best to use. We tend to give students mixed messages by telling them to “Delegate” (inform an adult of the problem) but then accusing them of tattling, and we definitely don’t do enough to teach them the “Distract” method, which could help them when dealing with peers.

The best we can do in education is work hard to eradicate prejudice altogether, but in the meantime we need to help children – and adults – to understand the strategies we can use to undermine it in our presence. Some other helpful resources for this are, “Racism Interruptions,” and “The Bias Toolkit.”

I will be adding this post to my growing collection of Anti-Racism resources. Please take a look, and feel free to offer suggestions!

2 thoughts on “The 5 D’s of Bystander Intervention”

  1. I follow you because I am a retired Technology teacher and I enjoy your posts. I also have two daughters who homeschool their children, so I pass some of your ideas on to them. This 5 D’s post is so timely and helpful. As you said, people feel kind of powerless in situations like this and don’t know how to react without being in danger themselves (though I continue to wonder why those men shown in the video didn’t act). Thank you for doing the research, and sharing this. Yes, I think for older children, this would be appropriate teaching material.

    1. It’s so great to read your comment! Thank you so much, and I am glad that you found this post helpful and worth sharing. I hope that you, your daughters, and your grandchildren are doing well during these crazy times!

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