Ending violence one green dot at a time

Green Dot, a national program that teaches bystanders how to deal with power-based personal violence, is thriving on the Puget Sound campus. Administrators and students alike have praised the program for its accessibility, inclusiveness and practical approach. Green Dot was founded by Dr. Dorothy Edwards, whose mission is to create a cultural shift by reshaping the way we look at violence.

The term “sexual violence” was replaced with “power-based personal violence” in order to include a much broader range of harmful behavior. Director of Multicultural Student Services Czarina Ramsay does admit that sexual violence tends to be stressed over other types because this is a college campus, but male-on-female violence is no longer the sole focus. Instead, this scenario appears alongside many others that were previously underrepresented.

This perspective shift also extends to how male students are treated: “Men don’t rape. Rapists rape,”  Ruby Aliment said, summing up the message of Green Dot in her own words.

Another student who attended the Sept. 25 training session, Eric Hopfenbeck, said “there are people out there who hear the term power-based personal violence and immediately think of a man. I think it is important to emphasize the fact that either a man or a woman can commit an act of power-based personal violence.”

Hopfenbeck denied that gender influences the way he sees this kind of violence.

Preston Van Buren, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon who also participated in the Sept. 25 session, had a different perspective: “My gender is the one doing this. People are going to be insulted, but it’s mostly men. It’s important to emphasize male violence toward women.”

Statistics are little help in trying to determine the numbers of men and women who have experienced power-based personal violence (or sexual violence alone) because these cases often go unreported.

“The problem with sexual violence is that most people don’t commit it, but the few that do commit it over and over and over. No one’s saying ‘Stop, we won’t tolerate this.’ And the victim doesn’t say anything either. Green Dot is an effective way to have a conversation about violence,” Director of Student Activities Marta Palmquist-Cady said. “In some ways it would be better if we had higher numbers that were reported, and then I think we would be making a difference, because we would be able to show that people are having those conversations.”

Green Dot training focuses on the empowerment of the individual, and teaches techniques for overcoming the psychological inhibitions that paralyze bystanders. The Green Dot website ( cites social behavior studies done between 1967 and 2002. From this research Dr. Edwards and her team have drawn the conclusion that the main obstacles for
bystanders include diffusion of responsibility, evaluation apprehension, pluralistic ignorance, lack of confidence in skills and a tendency to act only on modeled behavior. These justifications for inaction have all been expressed during bystander training at Puget Sound. Palmquist-Cady explained that during the anonymous poll conducted at the beginning of the training session, most students said they avoid getting involved because they feel it is none of their business or that they don’t know enough about the situation.

Van Buren went on to say that a cultural shift is the key to ending power-based personal violence because it is the potential for social embarrassment that keeps many bystanders silent. He said he loves to talk about Green Dot with anyone who will listen. Green Dot leaders agree: creating an open culture in which communication is the primary tool for defusing violent situations is the primary objective of the program.

In 2010, Green Dot replaced a different program called When Hello Gets Out of Hand, which focused on awareness rather than prevention. Green Dot is organized through collaboration between Student Activities and Multicultural Student Services, and plans to keep the conversation going by offering as many opportunities as possible for students to engage in the program.