University of Idaho safety forum urges students to be accountable

A special campus event is named for the Boise woman killed in 2011 by a professor.

MOSCOW-PULLMAN DAILY NEWSSeptember 18, 2013 

Bystander intervention was the theme behind University of Idaho’s second annual Katy Benoit Safety Forum on Monday, the beginning of Campus Safety Week, a weeklong effort to raise awareness of high-risk behaviors and situations.

The university started the forum last year as part of a settlement reached with the family of Benoit, a graduate student who was shot to death by her onetime lover and professor, Ernesto Bustamante.

This year’s event began with a lecture organized by Virginia Solan, the school’s coordinator of Violence Prevention Programs. She spoke to students and community members about Green Dot, a prevention program that aims to reduce personal violence, such as bullying, dating and domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Solan said the purpose behind Green Dot is to educate people on what to do if they see a peer in a potentially dangerous situation.

“It’s a lot easier to take action when you find yourself in a challenging situation if you’ve thought about it beforehand,” she said.

Solan often used the example of a party, where the combination of alcohol and peer pressure can leave students, particularly females, vulnerable to violence or sexual assault. In these types of settings, Solan said, people are often dissuaded from stopping a potentially harmful situation because they believe it’s not their place to get involved.

“A very small percentage of people are able to do an awful lot of harm because we’re just not comfortable and because we’ve been raised in a culture that says mind your own business and look the other way,” she said.

She said it is important to remember that taking no action can have dire results.

“If you choose to do nothing, that still has consequences, and they’re consequences that other people have to live with, and you have to live with,” she said.

During the forum, students were asked how they would intervene if they saw a friend in trouble. Solan gave them advice on how to protect their friend through confrontation, by distracting the potential predator or by getting in touch with law enforcement.

Sophomore Andrew Schaffer, 21, said he attended the lecture because he wanted “to be part of the solution” in making the campus safer. Schaffer said he’s found that showing support for fellow students, even in small ways, can make a large difference.

“Even sticking up for people ... helps a lot,” he said.

The rest of the forum included talks on issues such as stalking and unhealthy relationships.

Campus Safety Week will feature a training session for staff and faculty — called “Sexual Assault: Know What to Do When Students Tell You” — conducted by Craig Chatriand, associate dean of students, on Wednesday and Thursday.

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