Green Dot campaign is promising, yet flawed


First-year orientations and mandatory Greek life seminars for the past few years have featured a new addition: education on a program called “Green Dot,” which emphasizes bystander prevention of power-based personal violence.

Green Dot organizes situations into a system of both “red dots” (which represent threats and inaction in high-risk situations) and “green dots” (which represent behaviors and attitudes that promote safety for all).

“A green dot is simply your individual choice at any given moment to make our campus safer,” the University’s website Green Dot page said.

“No one has to do everything…Everyone has to do something.”

The program, which offers “bystander training” for interested participants twice per semester, is aimed at lessening the amount of violence—especially sexual violence—seen on campus.

That exact “bystander training,” however, is only one of the problems with Green Dot.

For one, according to the Green Dot website, “the Green Dot etc. strategy is predicated on the belief that individual safety is a community responsibility and shifts the lens away from victims/perpetrators and onto bystanders.”

That sounds nice in theory, but in practice, focusing on the responsibility of bystanders to prevent violent situations removes the power of the victims to protect themselves.

“Putting all of the responsibility on the bystander basically eliminates the possibilities of things a potential victim can do to reduce their chances of becoming a victim,” freshman Eileen Sheats said.

While it is true that bystanders can play a role or offer a helping hand, placing all of the concern—and thus liability—on bystanders leads to the belief that victims are powerless in preventing violence.

The task of preventing violence should fall equally on bystanders, who may notice something a victim does not, and on the target, who should be on the lookout for their own safety at all times.

That is not to say, of course, that violence is ever the fault of victims; rather, that victims should be empowered to protect themselves, and take control of their own safety, instead of leaving themselves passively at the mercy of others.

“I think [Green Dot] degrades the power women have to control what happens to them over the course of the evening or of the night. By making this whole argument about what third parties need to do with regards to intervening, you undermine women’s capacity to do something for themselves and you victimize them,” freshman Ethan Laser said.

“While it is of paramount importance that third parties stay vigilant and intervene when necessary, by saying it’s someone else’s responsibility you’re implying that women don’t have the power to do it themselves.”

“Giving the victims more autonomy is incredibly important—they shouldn’t have to rely on a bystander,” freshman Kyle Chong said.

“[Green Dot] should be a lot more about education for everyone involved; it shouldn’t just be stopping the problem, it should be preventing the problem.”

Secondly, trivializing the complex and multi-faceted issue of personal violence into two categories of “green” and “red” dots is almost demeaning to the victims of such violence. What counts and does not count as a green or red dot?

The fact is that this issue does not lend itself well to oversimplification; human interactions are far more complicated than a simple green-and-red chart of what is and what is not okay.

In addition, such categorizing and classifying makes it much easier to ignore the real nature of the problem at hand; referring to plain violence by another name is tantamount to masking it completely.

You may have heard someone joking to their friends, “Red dot!” when someone accidentally leans in too close. This is the equivalent of saying to someone, “Sexual violence, ha ha!”—but who would ever say that, when the words themselves are so blunt?

The fact that the program disguises the horrible reality of violence under two neat pseudonyms is completely counterproductive to its aim of bringing that violence out in the open.

Despite its issues, there is nothing wrong with the objective of the Green Dot program.

“I don’t disagree with the goals of the program,” Chong said.

“I disagree with its methodology.”

The University certainly needs a program in place that openly and honestly discusses the huge issue of power-based personal violence, especially given that this is a college campus and such issues need to be addressed.

“The message [of Green Dot] needs to be one of empowerment, where women absolutely have the authority to control the course of the night,” Laser said.

“They can tell someone, ‘I’m uncomfortable’, or just leave, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to leave the situation.”

The University needs to instate a program with the goals of Green Dot, but one that addresses the issue in a much more proactive manner—one that asks everyone, not just bystanders, to take control of ending violence in the community. Only through everyone’s effort can we hope to make a positive change in a culture of violence.