Active Bystander Toolkit Webpage

Active Bystander Toolkit

Section 1: What is Bystander Intervention?

Preventing harassment and aiding victims of harassment is everyone’s responsibility. This is important because places that feel safe and inclusive foster community and participation. An engaged bystander is someone who lives up to that responsibility by intervening before, during, or after a situation when they see or hear behaviors that threaten, harass, or otherwise encourage violence (physical or verbal). While some behaviors, such as racist or prejudiced jokes, inappropriate sexual comments, innuendos, microaggressions (see below), or vulgar gestures, are not illegal, they remain harmful to the persons experiencing them. It may not be safe or effective to directly confront the harasser in every case, but there is a range of ways bystanders can be involved before, during, or after a situation when they see or hear behaviors that promote harassment or violence. The resources below provide an overview of how to be an effective bystander and offer some intervention tips and strategies:


Spotlight on Microaggressions

Microaggressions are "everyday verbal, non-verbal and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” (Sue et al 2019). They perpetuate various types of discrimination, including racism, sexism, and homophobia, through indirect, subtle, or unintentional behaviors. Understanding microaggressions is crucial for bystander intervention as it may be hard to determine which acts or comments might be disturbing to another person and when such comments create situations that warrant bystander intervention. Because microaggressions might be difficult for bystanders to recognize, we must do our best to educate ourselves on these acts to know when and how to appropriately step in and potentially prevent them from occurring in the future.

Derald Wing Sue et al., (2007) identifies 3 types of microaggressions: microassault, microinsult, and microinvalidation.

Microassaults are the most blatant of the three types of microaggressions and can take the form of a verbal or non-verbal attack on someone. These attacks can be rude, insensitive, or insulting as they are typically comments on a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, etc. An example of this could be touching a person’s natural hair without asking permission and commenting on how it feels or comparing it to something else with negative connotations.

Microinvalidation is when a marginalized person’s experience, opinions, or comments regarding a situation are invalidated by someone from a dominant group. Microinvalidations can take the form of omissions, verbal comments, actions, tone policing, or body language that negate or deny a person’s experiential realities related to discrimination. An example of this would be if a white person downplays a person of color’s experience of racism, saying “I don’t think that happened”. Another example could be: “No way, you have a mental disability? You seem perfectly normal to me” or telling someone with a disability, “I don’t see your disability”. These types of comments negate a marginalized person’s experiences and reality.

Microinsults are often well-intentioned compliments that can feel or come across as insulting to the receiver. An example would be if a native-English speaker compliments an immigrant or a first-generation American on how well they speak English. Asking questions related to a person’s origin or their ethnic heritage can make an immigrant or the child of an immigrant feel like a second-class citizen and a foreigner. Name-based microinsults are also very commonplace and can make someone with a racially and ethnically distinct name feel a sense of “otherness” and undermine their confidence and self-esteem. Shortening someone’s name without their expressed wishes, asking them if they have an English version of their name, misspelling and unapologetically mispronouncing their name, and not taking the time and effort to find out how to pronounce their name correctly negates a person’s self-identity and can insult them. One way to prevent these is asking someone with a foreign-sounding name how their name should be pronounced as well as asking them their preferred pronouns.

Other Examples:

    • “Your English is really good. Where did you learn to speak English so well?”
    • “I don’t understand your accent.”
    • “So, you are an educated woman!” (Look of surprise)
    • “Where are you really from?”
    • Tone policing (“Why do you always have to express yourself so passionately?
    • Calm down!”)
    • “Your hair looks so interesting. Can I touch it?”
    • “You don’t look like a mixed person at all.”
    • “Is that your real hair or is it a weave?”
    • “It should be easy for you to get a job as a Black woman these days.”
    • “So you know, this is how you do it”. (said in a condescending tone of voice)


Counteracting Microaggressions:

See the following tips to help prevent microaggressions and intervene if you witness them:

    • Show respect for peoples’ names by pronouncing them properly and not changing or shortening them. If a person’s name is challenging for us to pronounce we can respectfully ask: “Can you please help me to pronounce your name correctly?” or “How would you like your name to be pronounced?”
    • Befriend and spend more time with people who are different from you; respect their unique identity and learn about their history, heritage, cultures, religions, etc.
    • Avoid laughing at jokes that engage in ethnic, cultural, or religious stereotyping and body shaming. Take a stance and in a non-judgemental yet firm tone of voice say something like, “I don’t like jokes like that; they make fun of others. I would feel hurt if someone made a joke like that to stereotype my ethnicity and culture.”
    • If you witness a microaggression, your first step to intervene could be going over to the victim and placing yourself between them and the perpetrator (if it is safe to do so), introducing yourself, and starting a conversation in a calm tone of voice. Address the victim and ask them how they are doing. The next step is to explain to the perpetrator (using a calm tone and non-judgemental language) that what they said and/or did was insulting and/or discriminatory.
    • Using non-judgemental language and a calm tone of voice, point out the microaggression to the perpetrator without name-calling or labeling them as racist or prejudiced. Let the perpetrator know the reason why what they said or did was insulting/discriminatory, and how it made you feel as someone witnessing it.
    • As a bystander, use active listening skills and validate the victim’s experiences with the microaggression. It is important to avoid minimizing their experiences by asking questions like “Are you sure?” or making excuses for the perpetrator. Ask the victim if they are OK, how they are feeling, and if there is anything you can do or anyone you can call.

Section 2: Tools and Techniques for De-Escalating the Situation and Providing Support to Victims

Note: Ultimately, you must protect yourself first. If you are worried or perceive that intervening may cause you harm, particularly physical, seek out alternative ways of assisting the affected individual. For example, find others or call for help (including law enforcement, if necessary). You cannot help the original victim if you are threatened or hurt.

It is important to meaningfully intervene in situations of harassment using de-escalation techniques to diffuse the incident and safely remove the person from the situation. After diffusing the situation, it is also important to check in with the victim and offer support.

In our increasingly virtual environment it is especially important to proactively cultivate safe virtual spaces to prevent online harassment as much as possible. Whether you are hosting or attending a virtual engagement, we all have a role to play to promote safe online engagements. If hosting an online meeting, consider discussing ground rules and/or best practices for a safe, inclusive and respectful engagement with attendees at the start of the meeting. If you don’t wish to take up too much time during the event, then consider emailing attendees a reference sheet of best practices and/or ground rules before the event and then give everyone a quick reminder at the beginning of the meeting. In the event that online harassment occurs during a virtual engagement, and you feel safe, try to respectfully challenge the behavior using techniques like counterspeech. If you are hosting the event and an attendee harasses another, you may be able to mute or remove disruptive individuals from the meeting and disable comments, depending on the virtual platform you are using. Even in online settings, it is still of utmost importance to check in with the victim during and after the incident of harassment takes place.

See the resources below for tactics to safely intervene and act in harassment situations and respectfully assist victims of harassment.


Section 3: Incident Reporting within TCS

The Coastal Society spaces, including but not limited to meetings, events, online correspondence, is prohibited. However, if it does occur, we want our members to know what to do and trust that The Coastal Society will take serious action on reported accounts. According to TCS’ “Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy” (November 30, 2020):

Any employee, contractor, board member, volunteer, or another member* who believes that he/she/they or any other affiliate of TCS has been discriminated against or harassed should report this concern to the Executive Director and/or President, regardless of the offender’s identity or position. The Executive Director and/or President will take expeditious action to investigate and resolve the issue in a manner that seeks to prevent further harassment/discrimination. All complaints of discrimination and/or harassment will be handled as discreetly and confidentially as is possible, consistent with a proper investigation of the complaint.

*Student members should report concerns directly to their established TCS faculty advisor, who will then inform the Executive Director and/or President after fulfilling any administrative reporting requirements of the affiliated academic institution. The Executive Director and/or President may defer action until the conclusion of any investigation conducted by the academic institution.

Additional information for how to safely report incidents is provided below:

TCS National Society member: Members can report incidents to the Executive Director and/or President via email ( or by phone (757-565-0999). The Executive Director and/or President may contact you later for additional information and will take action to resolve the issue and offer support to victims. Reporting incidents early can allow TCS staff to promptly support the victim and gather additional information.

TCS Student Chapter member: Within a Student Chapter, all reports of any incident should be directed to the established TCS faculty advisor and Student Chapter President. They may contact you later for additional information and will take action to resolve the issue. In addition, if an incident occurs at a TCS event please locate a TCS member of the event staff and report the incident. Reporting incidents early can allow TCS staff to promptly support the victim and gather additional information.

Note: TCS faculty advisors and Student Chapter Presidents must adhere to the affiliated university’s policies, but will also report any incidents to the National Chapter’s Executive Director and/or President and follow up with leadership for updates.

Non-TCS member (event participant, contractor, etc.): If an incident occurs at a TCS event, please report incidents to the TCS member hosting the event.