The Daily Californian Online

Step up, take responsibility into your own hands

By Alex Pollock
Special to the Daily Cal
Friday, April 29, 2011
Category: Opinion > Op-Eds

One of my projects this year has been to collect stories, from around campus, about times when members of our community step-up when they see a problematic situation. It has been extremely uplifting to hear about the times where Cal community members stand up for other's safety and well-being. You, reading this, you are part of this community and should be proud.

You have told me about stopping a fight before it happened by calming everyone down or about getting a belligerent friend out of a confrontation. You have told me about bravely having a conversation with friends concerning their derogatory jokes. You have told me about intervening during a domestic abuse situation. You have told me about walking a friend home when they were inebriated, or just scared. You have told me about calling 911 for a passed out stranger ... and the list goes on. I won't go into a full description of these events but if you are interested my stories and other's posts they are at

First, please understand that some of the actions you all take are huge and some seem small, but they are all amazing. Just acting is difficult. The field of sociology has done research on this phenomenon and found something now known as the "diffusion of responsibility." The quick explanation is that, in large groups, there is strong pull to conform and to not act because the assumption is that someone else (maybe someone who is more qualified) will help or that there is no problem because others have not already identified it.

There are no personal qualities that have been found to differentiate those who act from those who don't. (Beware - no one should think himself or herself above this effect.)

Intervening bystanders, somehow, overcome this effect and that is why I find them so amazing. So, Go Bears! But, as I mentioned, there are no personal qualities that determine whether a person will act or not. Is it alright that we only help sometimes? What percentage of incidents quelled by bystanders will satisfy you? For me, it is always better for that number to be higher.

So, as you get ready to leave for the summer or for the working world, remember that there is one thing that has been shown to combat the diffusion of responsibility: Knowledge about it.

Obviously, everything will not change overnight. But we can all help to make a community where we are aware and watch out for each other. I hope to watch out for you if you fall off of your bike, are too drunk to get home safely, are in a domestic violence situation or are in another sort of dangerous circumstance. I hope that you will all watch out for me too. So please, remember the dangers of the diffusion of responsibility and we all can be even better at watching out for each other - together, we can make Cal an even better place.

In closing, I want to give a caveat and say that if or when you do intervene, remember to keep yourself safe, too. I hope you will keep this in mind and watch out for your fellow neighbor!

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