Axel Thomas (Residence Don), Chad Jankowski (Green Dot Committee), and Kim Hoang (Peer Health Educator) in CCT Link on January 17, the day of the Green Dot launch. Len Paris/photo

What do you think of when you see violence? Do you immediately think that it’s none of your business, that someone else will call the police, that there’s nothing that you can do to make a difference?

The Green Dot bystander training program, which launched a few weeks ago at U of T, teaches students that you can make a huge difference, even as a bystander.

According to the U of T Green Dot website, “A green dot is any action that reduces the risk of violence in the moment, supports survivors, or creates a culture less tolerant of violence. A green dot is your individual choice to make our university safer.”

The Green Dot initiative kicked off at U of T last month, but it’s actually been about two years in the making. Founded in the United States by Dr. Dorothy Edwards, creator of the Green Dot Violence Prevention Strategy program, it caught the eye of Cheryl Champagne, U of T’s assault counsellor and educator, when she was researching community approaches U of T could take to diminish violence on campus.

“I became more interested in the whole bystander approach, which is really about a community approach—helping our community to step up and take responsibility and realize that violence is something that affects us all,” says Champagne. “I started doing research on what other places were doing, and then my Work-Study student found something on Green Dot and I heard Dr. Dorothy Edwards do a talk on a webinar that was about violence prevention, and it just really resonated with me.”

This was back in 2010. Champagne went to the University of Kentucky and attended the four-day Green Dot facilitator training program, then returned to U of T and started to promote the program. She formed a steering committee with other people who were interested in the program and they spoke to upper-level administration in order to get the initiative off the ground.

The Green Dot program is based on a foundation of research, much of which relates to the bystander effect and how each of us is affected by these dynamics.

“The green dot is an entry-level curriculum; it’s very general and starts with basic skills. It’s about engaging the good people who are not being violent to step up. The bystander training is the curriculum that includes looking at the bystander effect, the peer influence, our own personal obstacles, and the ‘three Ds’—the strategies for how we engage and how we do it in a way that we feel safe and comfortable with who we are as well,” says Champagne.

What’s at the heart of the Green Dot strategy?

“The training part is really important,” says Champagne. “It’s not enough to just believe that violence is wrong. We have to know what to do about it. That’s what the Green Dot strategy does: it provides actual training. It’s in the bystander training that they learn how to recognize power-based personal violence, some of the risky situations, and also understand and appreciate what our obstacles are.”

As the assault counsellor and educator at U of T, Champagne knows perhaps better than anybody just how many cases of violence are taking place on campus—and she has something to say to those who think nothing can be done about it.

“There’s always somebody stalking their partner, there’s somebody who hit their partner—there are all these red dots that are happening. It’s not like they happened organically and we can’t ever change anything,” said Champagne. “It’s individuals who are committing these acts. These individuals are part of our community and are also influenced by our community. So if other individuals with influence step in and say that that’s not okay, and they do a green dot, then it does make a difference.”

Sean Kinsella, the community development coordinator of UTM’s Student Housing and Residence Life, says, “I would tell someone who believes that they can’t make a difference that ending power-based personal violence starts with just one decision to do something—anything—to help end it. That one decision, like ripples in a pond, turns a red dot into a green dot and makes our campus a safer place. That green dot says to the world that one act of violence is too many, that the cost to all of us is too great. It is only by our personal choices that the world changes, and that our campus becomes a place where the violence stops.”

Too many people think that violence has nothing to do with them. However, as Champagne said, “Somebody has to start. The idea with the green dots is that we’re not doing it by ourselves; we’re a part of a larger social movement on campus. It’s part of being part of the solution and changing the culture.

When we don’t do anything, it doesn’t mean we’re to blame for what happened. But what messages do people get? Whether it’s the person who’s being harmed or the person who is hurting, they get the message that people don’t care. And what’s the effect?”