North County Neighbors Promote Inclusivity by Taking the Bystander Challenge

NEWS // November 12, 2019

North County Neighbors Promote Inclusivity by Taking the Bystander Challenge

Brittney Ochira, Outreach Manager, National Conflict Resolution Center

After a long day of work, juggling kids’ schedules and a quick dinner on the go, a group of neighbors joined together in their apartment complex’s community room to find an answer to the question: When I witness disrespectful communication happening in my community, how can I go from being a bystander to an upstander?

An upstander is a person who speaks or acts in support of an individual being attacked or bullied, instead of just standing by and letting things happen. To find out how they could become upstanders, the residents at a MAAC affordable housing complex in Carlsbad dedicated two evenings out of their busy schedules to participate in a workshop called The Bystander Challenge.

The Bystander Challenge is an anti-harassment training led by the National Conflict Resolution Center to help residents throughout San Diego County develop conflict resolution skills that teach people how to have challenging conversations in ways that demonstrate respect, inclusiveness and dignity for everyone involved.

In the training, participants learned about “micro-aggressions,” such as common verbal teasing or behaviors that are insulting, whether intentional or not. These can include inappropriate jokes, belittling someone or making fun of someone for an attribute like their race or physical size.  The group identified micro-aggressions they had witnessed in their community, including the bullying their children experienced in school or things they had grown up saying in their family, such as calling a larger person “Gordo” as a nickname.  They reflected on how they had either participated in or been a bystander to these micro-aggressions, and then considered the values they hold, and how those values can motivate them to act as an upstander.

Many people can immediately identify the uncomfortable feeling they get when they see a micro-aggression happening, but in the stress or awkwardness of the moment, not knowing what to say or do as a bystander, too often leads to inaction. In this workshop, facilitated in Spanish, participants acted out bystander scenes and practiced what an upstander would do in that same scenario.

Participants learned four effective approaches for Bystanders to take:

In the Moment:

  • DIRECT: The Bystander makes a brief, respectful comment which addresses the behavior.
  • DISTRACTION: If the Bystander doesn’t feel they can make a direct comment for some reason, they decide to do something in the moment to divert attention away from the offensive behavior.

After the Fact:

  • DIALOGUE: The Bystander follows up with the Person Responsible to have a constructive and healthy dialogue about the offensive behavior.
  • DELEGATE: If the Bystanders feels they cannot have a dialogue directly with the Person Responsible, they can delegate that task to someone who they feel is better suited.  

“It was the most inspirational workshop - giving us the power to come forth when we feel we must,” shared Lissie Parra who is the MAAC Resident Services Specialist who coordinated this gathering of neighbors.

In a community of bystanders, it takes brave, caring upstanders like these neighbors to shift the culture and promote the kind of respect and inclusion that allows everyone to live well in San Diego County.  

To bring The Bystander Challenge to your community group, contact: Brittney Ochira, 619-238-2400 x233,