Reading Time: 7 minutes Here’s what can you do to foster a more positive and respectful campus culture.
Reading Time: 8 minutes Learn what you can do if you see someone experiencing unwanted pressure or harassment. Here are key strategies for bystander intervention.
Reading Time: 11 minutes Social events are an important part of the college experience. Whether you’re a host or a guest, here’s how to make your next gathering fun for everyone.
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Most of us have witnessed online harassment. For that matter, most of us report that we’ve experienced it, according to surveys. Young adults are the most likely to be abused online. That experience can make it harder for students to attend class or concentrate on learning, according to a survey by Hollaback!, a coalition to prevent harassment. Online harassment can raise the risk of suicide in adults who are already experiencing emotional or situational stress, according to a 2011 study in Educational Leadership.
How can you respond if you or a friend is harassed online? How can you make sure your own online presence is positive? The prevalence of trolling, roasting, stalking, and other forms of harassment gives us all opportunities to intervene. Online behavior is contagious, studies show. We are all well positioned to model respectful behavior on social networks, influence a comment thread that’s veering toward abuse, and help build more positive online spaces in which everyone can participate freely. Leaders in the tech industry have our backs on this as they work to make online spaces more accommodating for all. For six steps to keeping the cyber-peace, see below. For resources and tools, see Get help or find out more. For guidance on how to argue constructively online and off, see Tame the tension: Science-backed ways to talk it out in this issue.
Online harassment includes one-time incidents as well as cases of cyberbullying that unfold over months or years. It includes attacks based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, appearance, and more. Severe harassment online has been linked to notorious controversies, such as “GamerGate,” when harassers targeted women in the video game industry. In a polarized political environment that has seen documented increases in hate crimes, online harassment has made for alarming headlines, as when the writer Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for inciting racist abuse.
Online harassment takes various forms:
- Trolling (sometimes called flaming) means posting comments with the intention of triggering distress in others.
- Roasting is a direct attack on another person’s view or position.
- Exclusion involves singling out someone and not letting them participate in group chats or threads, and/or making negative comments toward them.
- Harassment means repeatedly attacking a person, often by insulting their racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, or religious identity.
- Cyberstalking involves repeated, unwanted online contact with the purpose of tracking, threatening, or harassing someone.
- Doxing means using online sources to trace someone’s identity and gather information about them, then using that information to harm or harass the person.
- Outing involves the malicious release of personal and private information about a person.
- Masquerading means creating a fake identity in order to harass someone anonymously or impersonate someone else.
Some communities are targeted by cyberbullying more frequently than others. Young people, women, and LGBT youth report especially high rates of harassment online. Here’s what that looks like:
- Two in three (65 percent) of young adult internet users (aged 18–29) have been the target of at least one of six identified types of online harassment, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center.
- 10–28 percent of college students experience cyberbullying, according to an analysis of seven recent studies (Sage Open, 2014).
- Men seem more likely than women to report online harassment overall (44 percent versus 37 percent), especially name-calling, being purposefully embarrassed, and physical threats, according to the Pew study.
- Young women aged 18–24 seem more likely than other demographics to experience certain severe types of harassment. In the Pew survey, one in four young women had been stalked online, and the same proportion had been sexually harassed online.
- Sexual harassment in general is often targeted at women who are perceived to violate stereotypical gender norms, according to “The Sexual Harassment of Uppity Women,” a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology (2007). This finding helps explain the later “GamerGate” online abuse directed at women in the video game industry.
- LGBT youth are cyberbullied at significantly higher rates than their heterosexual peers, with 54 percent experiencing it within the past three months, according to a national study in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy (2010).
- Disabled people are targeted for online abuse, though the current research is slight. A 2016 study involving 19 disabled people concluded that harassers targeted people with disabilities and the impact was more severe for reasons relating to the disabilities (Disability and Society). Grade-school students receiving special education services are more likely than their peers to report being victimized online, according to the Journal of Special Education (2013).
Online harassment and cyberbullying have widespread and well-documented consequences. For example:
- Distress More than one in four people who’d experienced online harassment found it “extremely upsetting” or “very upsetting,” in the 2014 Pew survey.
- Isolation Students who experience online abuse report higher rates of isolation. One in four people harassed online withdrew from social media, the internet, or their phones as a result, according to a 2016 report by the Data & Society Research Institute.
- Emotional and behavioral health risks Children and teenagers who are cyberbullied or harassed online are nearly twice as likely as their peers to experience depression and substance abuse, a 2007 study in Child Maltreatment found. Cyberbullying negatively affects grade-school students’ school attendance and academic achievement, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of School Violence.
- Suicide risk Online harassment can raise adults’ suicide risk by exacerbating loneliness and hopelessness among those with preexisting stressors, according to Educational Leadership (2011). Among young teens, both the perpetrators and targets of cyberbullying are more likely than their peers to attempt suicide, the same study found.
- Censorship Online harassment appears to curtail free speech. One in four Americans censor themselves online out of fear of online harassment, Hack Harassment reports.
Not all online harassers have antisocial traits such as lacking empathy. Even ordinary people (who don’t have personality issues) can be induced to troll in certain circumstances, researchers from Cornell University, New York, found. Here’s what can drive us to trolling:
- We’re in a bad mood (this helps explain why trolling intensifies late at night and on Mondays).
- We’re participating in a thread or conversation that started with a “troll comment” or in which trolling is already underway (the more trolling is happening already, the more likely we will troll too).
In the online environment, we can choose to be anonymous, a factor that lowers the behavioral bar. That can make it easier for even those of us who are generally well- intentioned to dish out sarcasm or insults, and disconnect from others’ feelings. In our survey, many students acknowledged that they’d done this and regretted it.
The research paints a predictably unflattering picture of some habitual online harassers. Perpetrators may be motivated by the following:
- A perceived way to stay popular Harassing others online may make the perpetrator feel powerful, and may be their response to low self-esteem, according to Delete Cyberbullying, a project aimed at parents and grade-school students.
- A sense of failure or threat In a 2010 study, men who harassed women players during a video game appeared to be less skilled at the game than their peers, according to a 2010 study in PLOS One.
- Low empathy In a 2014 study of college students, lower empathy toward others was associated with a higher likelihood of cyberbullying, according to Computers in Human Behavior.
- Other personality disorder traits Persistent trolling is associated with narcissism, a willingness to inflict harm, and a willingness to manipulate and deceive others, according to a 2014 study in Personality and Individual Differences.
- Anger toward victims Online stalking tends to be associated with the perpetrators’ distress and anger toward their targets (though personality issues can be a factor), a 2000 study in Aggression and Violent Behavior suggests.
1. Set a respectful and considerate tone and standard
The majority of our online presence is communal. Every contribution we make adds to the overall tone of the online space. Kindness is contagious. By engaging respectfully with others, you reinforce the expectation that others do the same.
2. Practice engaging constructively on difficult or contentious topics
Disagreeing with a friend’s opinion or disputing someone’s argument is all well and good—depending on how we go about it. For a guide to constructive arguing and how to influence someone’s opinion, see Tame the tension: Science-backed ways to talk it out in this issue of SH101.
3. Apologize when it’s merited, even if your slight was unintentional
If you hear that you have hurt someone, apologize. Communicating digitally can sometimes obscure the very real three-dimensional people who are reading and hearing our words. It’s important to remember that, even in the midst of heated or highly charged conversations. If the platform allows you to delete, retract, or qualify a contentious comment, do so.
4. Ask for clarification if you need it
If you don’t know why what you said was hurtful, you can ask for clarification. To the best of your ability, do so with respect and compassion. You could say something like, “I’m sorry that I upset you with my comment. Could you tell me why that word is hurtful? I want to be sure I don’t make the same mistake again.”
5. Stay chill when you feel misunderstood
Resist calling people out personally with inflammatory and divisive terms. If you think a comment has racist or sexist implications, try assuming those were unintentional and pointing them out gently. By the same token, if you see yourself as a fair person and someone says that your comment was discriminatory, try to resist getting defensive. We are all coming from our own complex places. If you’ve asked for clarification and didn’t get it, reiterate that your intention was positive, and let it go.
6. Use the reporting tools
Platforms and sites rely on their users to report abusive or disrespectful behavior that violates community standards. You can help create a safer environment by reporting harassment and abuse when you see or experience it.
7. Use your moderator powers for good
If you’re the administrator or moderator of an online group, forum, or list, take initiative to set the tone for positive, respectful interactions. You can do so by:
- Establishing community standards or guidelines (pinning a post about rules to the top of a page helps reduce trolling, according to a 2016 experiment by r/science, a Reddit community)
- Creating a clear reporting structure for harassment or abuse
- Reaching out for help and support if you run into trouble
- Being open to feedback from your community and others
8. Support people and platforms doing good work
In recent years, the tech industry has been taking a more active approach to preventing and addressing cyberbullying and harassment. There are several great initiatives you can learn from and support, including:
Facebook’s Bullying Prevention Hub
This online resource, developed in partnership with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, offers information on and strategies for addressing cyberbullying. It includes detailed and practical conversation starters and step-by-step plans for students, parents, and educators looking to address a bullying incident, whether they are speaking with the person being bullied or the person inflicting the bullying. This resource also offers concrete strategies for proactively preventing online harassment and cyberbullying.
This coalition, led by Intel, Vox Media, and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, aims to build a more inclusive and supportive online community. You can get involved and commit to building that more inclusive and supportive online community through the Hack Harassment website. There, you can sign up to be a Campus Ambassador, host a #HackHarassment hackathon, or apply for a grant to fund your own harassment-hacking project.
People who are harassed online tend to turn to trusted friends, teachers, and family members for help, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of School Violence. Receiving support, both online and off, can have a tremendously positive impact on how someone copes with and responds to online harassment. Here’s how to go about it:
1. Think about what you can potentially accomplish
“Your goal might be to approach a friend involved in a bullying incident, but you don’t know how to approach them or what to say. Or you might choose to report something that you see online that seems unsafe for one of the people involved,” says Dr. Robin Stern, associate director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University, Connecticut.
2. Reach out and offer support
You can reach out directly to the person experiencing harassment. Express your alarm at what’s happened and ask what you can do to help. Bear in mind that responding with emojis or “likes” can sometimes be misleading.
3.Add positive comments to a negative thread
If you see insults or attacks online—for example, against a writer discussing sexual violence—consider contributing some positive words. Offering encouragement and support is a simple way to mitigate the effect of online harassment. Manners (good and bad) are contagious. Modeling civility and constructive commentary online can potentially dissuade others from trolling, according to a 2017 study by researchers at Cornell University. That said…
4. Ask before you act on someone else’s behalf
If you want to confront the aggressor or request an apology on behalf of the person who’s been wronged, this is not a decision to make alone. Work with the targeted person and respect their wishes about how to proceed. They might prefer to not confront the aggressor, or to report the issue to the relevant site directly. Except for situations of acute danger, do not take action on their behalf if you have not been asked to do so.
5. Check in with your own feelings
“It is important to reflect on your own feelings before talking with someone affected by a bullying incident because you want to make sure that you are in a place where you can have that conversation,” says Dr. Stern. “If you yourself are emotionally activated, which is understandable and may well be the case, then you won’t be able to have that conversation from a place of calm. If you lower your own emotional activation, you are going to be able to more effectively help the person in the interaction regulate their own emotions.”
6. Seek support, off-line and on
“It is important to talk it through with someone you trust and who you believe is wise about this sort of thing. You might turn to a trusted peer or RA or dean who can help you think about how to approach the incident, depending on your goal,” says Dr. Stern. Tell someone you trust and who is in a position to help. Alternatively, you might report the incident to the site or platform, group administrator, or moderator. If someone is being harmed, about to be harmed, or threatening harm, take that seriously and get help immediately.
Most online platforms give you tools to curate what content you see and with whom you interact online. Explore the options available to you and decide what you share online and who can see it. These approaches can help:
Take advantage of customization tools
Online platforms frequently give you control over the level of connection you want to have with someone. You can choose to block content or people whose content you don’t want to see. On some platforms, this decision can be separate from whether you remain friends with those users (e.g., on Facebook you can unfollow a person’s posts without unfriending the person).
Pick your friends
There is a lot to be said for trying to work through differences with people who hold varying opinions and making sure we’re exposed to viewpoints that are not the same as ours. However, if you are experiencing harassment from a user online, especially someone you don’t know or don’t have a strong relationship with off-line, you can choose to prevent that user from contacting you.
Protect your privacy
Review your privacy settings on all social media. You have control over who sees your posts and what online activity is viewable to others.
Consider making online magic
Several free software options and plugins allow you to make more customized and creative choices about what you see online. For example, Sweary mary is a Chrome Extension that replaces swear words with witty alternatives.
Be aware that not all sites are created equal
Some platforms do a better job than others of giving their users the tools and support they need to have a safe and fulfilling online experience. As an informed user, you can decide which sites you want to trust with your time and information, and which you’d rather pass on.
[school_resource category='counsellingservices, studentservices']
Robin Stern, PhD, associate director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Yale University, Connecticut.
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Bystander intervention is about the small things we all do for our friends and communities. When we see that someone is experiencing unwanted attention or pressure, we have a variety of ways we can check in: anything from a simple hello to a more creative disruption.
The best interventions happen early on—right when we notice that something is off, and well before a situation escalates. These interventions are easy, subtle, and safe. They help build a community that doesn’t tolerate casual disrespect and disregard, and prevent pressure and disrespect from escalating to coercion and violence.
How you choose to help others depends partly on your personality. To identify your own bystander style—direct, distraction, or stealth—check out each scenario. Keep track of your preferred responses and use them to score your answers.
1. At a house party, you notice someone from your physics class pulling a very drunk person into the bedroom where everyone dumped their coats. Do you…?
A. Point this out to the host.
B. Catch up with your classmate and offer to help with finding the drunk person’s friends or getting medical attention.
C. Follow them into the room, ask if they’ve seen your coat, and describe it at length.
2. One of your classmates makes a rape joke. Some people laugh, while others look uncomfortable. The professor nods along. Do you….?
A. Make a sympathetic face at the uncomfortable classmates and check in with them later.
B. Roll your eyes and say, “Oh yeah, sexual violence is hilarious. But back to our discussion…”
C. Talk to the professor after class and tell them the joke made you and others uncomfortable.
3. At an impromptu res hall party, you notice a guy looking uncomfortable about someone who is getting close and grinding on him. Do you…?
A. Dance toward them and invite some friends to join the circle.
B. “Accidentally” spill your drink on the handsy dancer.
C. Sidle up to the iPod, interrupt the hip-hop playlist, blast the Game of Thrones theme song, and look as surprised as everyone else.
4. At morning practice, one of your teammates seems distracted. When you ask if everything is OK, your teammate shrugs and says, “Yeah, I just had a weird hookup last night.” Do you…?
A. Say, “Weird how? Do you want to talk about it?” Suggest contacting your school’s counseling center, if that seems appropriate.
B. Text your teammate’s best friend and suggest they get lunch together and check in.
C. Make yourself available that day for Frisbee or a run with your teammate in case they want to talk.
5. Your roommate recently started dating Riley, who seems OK but is around an awful lot. Tonight, Riley came over while your roommate was out and hung around waiting. When your roommate finally got home, Riley said, “You’re back late. We should get to bed,” and disappeared into the bedroom. Your roommate stayed in the living room, making no moves to follow Riley. Do you…?
A. Explain loudly that you’re having a personal crisis and need to talk to your roommate about it immediately.
B. Ask your roommate to help you return some library books before midnight and use the walk over to check in about their relationship.
C. Make a mental note to get some professional input on how to talk to your roommate about this new relationship, the next time you’re alone.
6. During a small get-together, your friend Alex, who’s been drinking a lot, gets a text from an ex: wanna come over? Alex hasn’t expressed any interest in getting back together with this ex, so you are surprised when Alex gets up to head over. Do you…?
A. “Accidentally” spill water all over the floor. Ask Alex to help clean up and strike up a conversation about the text.
B. Offer to walk Alex over, with another mutual friend; you’ll talk it through on the way.
C. Hide Alex’s shoes, wait for Alex to notice they’re missing, and exclaim “That’s a sign! Why don’t you stay here?”
7. You and a couple of other Orientation Leaders are having lunch with a group of first-years. Everyone is bantering about their favorite football teams. Quinn is mostly silent and eventually says, “I’m not into sports much.” Jamie laughs and says, “What are you, gay?” Do you…?
A. Say, “Thank you, Quinn! I’m so happy to have an ally at last in this football-fixated world. Perspective is everything.”
B. Say, “We don’t say ‘gay’ disparagingly here,” and promptly change the subject.
C. Check in with Quinn after lunch and ask one of the other Orientation Leaders to have a chat with Jamie.
Your score: What type of bystander are you?
Score your responses according to the table below. Note: There are no right or wrong answers, no better or worse answers. This quiz is about finding your bystander style.
What your score says about you
Score 17–21 This much is clear—you’re a direct interventionist
You’re comfortable changing the trajectory when something’s wrong—by being caring and upfront. Sometimes you call people out, knowing this is OK; you’re doing what seems right.
Score 12–16 What’s going on over there, distraction artist?
You’re great at subtly making space for others and changing the tone of an interaction. You’re skilled at getting silly or creative, and finding elegant ways to shift the mood and message.
Score 7–11 You’re a stealth operator (fine, we’ll keep that quiet)
You’re most comfortable working with other people, finding help, and following up. When you see something concerning, you’re building a team to tackle it or thinking about how you can help.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how you intervene as long as you do something. Checking in early enables you to keep things subtle and avoid putting yourself or others at risk. Creating and maintaining a healthy campus community means being aware of what’s happening around us, and saying and/or doing something when we see a situation that just doesn’t look or feel right.
Fourth-year double major: writing & rhetoric and war, warfare, & the soldier experience at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, New York
“There are times when we just need to phone a lifeline, whether that’s a friend, a family member, or even campus security. If you find yourself (or someone else) in an uncomfortable situation, this app can send an alert to up to six designated friends or family at the touch of a button.”
Help is only a button away—whether you (or a friend) are in a sketchy situation and need assistance, if you’re walking somewhere and feel uncomfortable, or if you witness a situation that appears dangerous or unsafe.
If you’re looking for an entertaining new game or social platform, this isn’t for that.
Your circle is notified when they’re added, so they’re aware that they’re an emergency contact. And contacting them is super easy—the prompts are already made!
Get the app:
This quiz incorporates an earlier quiz created by Lee Scriggins, MSW, community substance abuse prevention coordinator at Boulder County Department of Public Health (formerly health communications and program manager at the University of Colorado Boulder), and Teresa Wroe, director of education and prevention/deputy Title IX coordinator at the University of Colorado Boulder.
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Going to a party? Or throwing one? Party-throwers and party-goers play a vital role in shaping the sexual culture of your campus. Party-throwers are the social engineers who design the spaces in which students meet, dance, talk, and sometimes drink or hook up. A well-planned environment helps everyone to make mindful decisions. And as a party guest, you can do a lot to make this easier for your host and more fun for yourself and others. Every time you demonstrate mutual respect, you reduce the likelihood of campus sexual assault and/or alcohol poisoning. Here’s how to throw a great party and be a great guest.
The minimum legal age for consuming alcohol in the US is 21.
How invitations can set the tone and expectations
Set the tone
How you talk about a party can go a long way in helping your guests imagine what it will be like. What’s the tone or vibe you want for your party? For example:
- If you don’t want people throwing up on your couch, don’t advertise the party with lots of alcohol images.
- Party themes can be fun—if they’re inclusive and thoughtful. Themes based on racial or gender stereotypes set up the party for failure.
- Consider how many guests you can realistically handle: the more people, the more potential for problems.
Are there “house rules” you want your guests to know about? For example:
- You’d like to know in advance if they’re bringing friends
- Certain spaces in your venue are off-limits
- Behavioral tip-offs:
- “Costumes are optional; respect for everyone is required”
- “Please help us with cleanup before you leave”
DESIGNATED GREETER+ More
“Oh, hi there!” Why it helps to have a designated greeter
Set a friendly tone
Consider explicitly assigning someone (or a few people) the task of greeting guests and inviting them in.
If there’s stuff your guests need to know, like when this thing is shutting down, consider posting it in the entryway.
Check in with arriving guests
Are they arriving alone? Slurring their words? Wobbly on their feet? You might want to check in with someone’s friends, get them medical attention, or not serve them any more alcohol.
Send people home safely
Make sure your guests have a safe way to get home. Check in with them as they leave. Post info about taxi and ride services, as well as medical response resources in case of accidents or alcohol poisoning.
CHECK IN WITH NEIGHBORS AND CAMPUS SECURITY+ More
Give certain people a heads-up
Here’s why that works out better for you:
Check in with your neighbors
- Let them know you’re planning a party. Better yet, invite them! Let them know the day and time of the party (start to end).
- Give them your phone number. Ask them to call or text if they have any concerns. Ideally, any noise complaints would be communicated to you first, rather than to the police. Don’t forget to pay attention to your phone during the party.
Check in with your campus security department
- They will get in touch with you if something happens in your area that you and your guests should know about.
- They may give you a call if they get a noise complaint rather than showing up and shutting the party down.
- They may be able to help people get to and from the party safely.
Check campus policies and state laws
- For example, if alcohol is being served and you do not have a liquor license, it may be illegal to collect money at the door—for any reason.
DANCE SPACE & CHILL SPACE+ More
Why parties need several spaces and options
Not everyone has fun the same way all the time.
When you’re putting together the playlist or choosing entertainers or DJs, think about how well they fit your values and priorities for the party. Avoid music that seems derogatory or aggressive.
Provide a quieter, more well-lit space where your guests can hang out, catch their breath, and talk. Play softer music. It’s a good idea to stock this space with cold water bottles and low-salt, high-protein snacks.
A set-up that makes room for conversation will help your guests communicate more clearly. This is especially important if two people are considering going home together.
Think about adding activities (apart from dancing) that don’t involve alcohol, like Jenga®, board games, and trivia.
& ISOLATED SPACE
What to do about isolated spaces
If there are isolated spaces in your party venue, decide whether or not to keep them open and accessible.
If not: Lock the door, rope off the space, and/or hang signs saying the space is closed.
If you keep isolated areas open, assign someone the task of checking in on those spaces throughout the party.
GET MEDICAL HELP IN CASE OF ALCOHOL POISONING & HANDLE DIFFICULT GUESTS+ More
How to trouble shoot at parties
Get medical help in case of alcohol poisoning
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the medical response resources available on your campus or in your community. If everything goes according to plan, your guests will drink safely and won’t need to use them.
Any of the following symptoms indicates alcohol poisoning
Call for medical help immediately:
- Can’t walk unassisted
- Unconscious and unresponsive
- Vomiting continuously
Handle difficult guests
Keep your cool. Controlling tone and body language can be tricky, but it’s crucial to prevent the situation from escalating further.
- Make clear “I” statements. Telling someone that they are too drunk or too aggressive invokes defensiveness. Try something like “I’m sorry but I can’t give you another drink” or “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
- Ask for help. If the situation seems volatile, enlist the help of others: your co-hosts or close friends, or friends of the person causing trouble (ask them to take their friend home).
WEAR SIGNATURE CLOTHING, CHECK IN ON GUESTS, & SUBTLY DISRUPT UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATIONS+ More
How to be the party-thrower of party-goers’ dreams
Make yourself noticeable
Pick a certain color, a silly hat, or a large pin (“Here to help!”). This lets guests know where to turn if anything comes up. If a large group is throwing the party, consider trading off “hosting duties” through the evening.
Model supportive social dynamics
Party-throwers are especially attuned to the general mood. You get to take the lead on looking out for one another and treating guests with respect. If you drink alcohol, stop after one or two.
Make the rounds
Introduce people and troubleshoot issues as they come up.
Check isolated spaces, such as bedrooms, closets, and yards.
Subtly disrupt uncomfortable situations
Maybe a guest is getting unwanted attention or someone is pressuring others to drink. It’s your party: You can check in whenever you notice something, no matter how small. The most effective interventions happen early and subtly. Distract people, change the topic, make a joke or an introduction.
BAR—IF YOU’RE SERVING ALCOHOL+ More
How to help your guests make mindful choices
If you plan to serve alcohol, aim for an environment in which everyone can make mindful, deliberate choices about whether they want to drink and how much. A successful party does not have to involve alcohol.
If you serve alcohol:
- Keep it in one place. This way, your guests drink only if they’ve made an active choice to do so. Having alcohol in multiple places suggests that drinking (and often drinking heavily) is the default.
- Have ice on hand. Your cocktails and mocktails (nonalcoholic cocktails) will feel fancier and your guests will take their time sipping their drinks.
- Use narrow cups and proper measuring tools. If you’re serving hard liquor, use a 1 oz. shot glass.
- Offer one or two nonalcoholic mocktails; promote them on signs or posters. Look online for recipes.
DESIGNATED SERVER+ More
Why it helps to have a designated server
For guests, this set up makes drinking an active choice rather than a default. It’s easier for people to count their drinks over the course of the evening.
Designated servers are awesome at these party skills:
- Mixing tasty cocktails that complement the party theme, or just serving beer or wine.
- Not over-pouring drinks.
- Keeping an eye out, noticing who needs to switch to something nonalcoholic.
- Offering nonalcoholic options, including mocktails.
Many campuses and community organizations offer classes on bartending skills and safe serving practices—often for free.
NOTICE THE TONE, HOUSE RULES, & PLAN AHEAD+ More
Pay attention to the invitation
Notice the tone
The invitation (whatever form it takes) should give you some idea of what your hosts have in mind. Big house party? Chill get-together?
Respect their house rules
Validate the hosts’ trust in you. They might want to keep certain areas off-limits, or they may need to end things at a certain hour.
Think about what you want out of the party. If alcohol will be served: Do you want to drink? How much? You can have a great time at any party without drinking any alcohol. If you do plan to drink, a good rule of thumb is one standard drink every hour or 1½ hours.
Be a good sport about the theme
If your hosts have gone through the trouble of coming up with a theme, do your best to play along. A good theme will make room for everyone to participate in whatever way they feel comfortable, so feel free to find your own.
- Does something about the theme seem off to you? Playing to racial or gender stereotypes is unlikely to end well. If the theme raises a red flag, bring that up with the hosts ahead of time. They would probably prefer to tweak things early on than end up with a lousy party.
TOUCH BASE WITH THE HOST+ More
Touch base with the host in advance
Get in touch with your host at least a day in advance. Do they need help setting up? Or staying late to help clean up? This a great way to show your appreciation.
If you want to bring something, consider snacks (preferably low-salt and high-protein ones, like Greek yogurt dip or hummus with veggies) or mixers. These go quickly at parties, and your hosts will appreciate having extras.
WELCOME THE NEWBIES,
& SAY HI TO THE HOST
Say hi to the host and the newbies
Find the host when you arrive
You’re here to see them, and they’ll be happy to know you made it. Ask if they could use a hand with anything.
If you don’t know many people there, tell your host
They want you to have fun. They probably have a good sense of who you’ll get along with, and can introduce you.
If you see new faces in the room, say hello
Offer to show them around, and introduce them to other guests. You’ve been that newbie—remember the relief when someone made you feel welcome in a new space.
If you’re the newbie, branch out
- Parties are a great place to meet new friends. Foolproof conversation starters: “How do you know [the host]?” and “Got any tips or intel for rookies about life at [this school]?”
- Trust your instincts. You may be new to this particular space, but you’re very good at knowing when you’re having fun and feeling welcomed. If you’re feeling pressured or getting an uncomfortable vibe from someone, pull a third person into the mix or come up with an excuse to leave the interaction.
RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S LIMITS – AND YOUR OWN+ More
Respect other people’s limits – and your own
Fun means different things to different people. Some people would rather hang out and talk than spend the night on the dance floor. Some people will be more comfortable getting physical than others. Whatever it is, pay attention to the cues you’re getting, and respect them.
- Most of us are very good at reading the subtle communicative cues we get from other people—including in romantic and sexual situations.
- We can tell when someone is engaged and enthusiastic versus disengaged and uninterested. We notice things like whether the other person is leaning in or pulling away, intensifying or slowing down.
- Ideal encounters happen when there is mutual enthusiasm. If you encounter anything less than that, take a step back and reassess. Hold out for a better situation.
LOOK OUT FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS+ More
Look out for yourself and others
If you notice a troubling dynamic, think about how best to step in
Perhaps you notice someone experiencing unwanted attention or being pressured to drink more than they want to. Maybe you see some broken glass or someone in need of medical attention.
Whatever it is, there’s always something you can do
This is your community, and you play an important role in making it a positive and supportive one. You could:
- Check in: Say hello, ask a question, ask for help. A small distraction like that can give someone the out they need.
- Engage the hosts: Let the people who are throwing the party know sooner rather than later. The sooner you spot potential trouble, the easier it is to redirect things unobtrusively.
- Find the friends: If you don’t know the people involved, you can find their friends and see if they can intervene.
If you’re worried that your friend is pressuring others
This can be a great opportunity for a stealthy intervention—for example, by joining a conversation or people on the dance floor. If you’re close to your friend, you can always demand that they consult you about something important in the other room.
IF YOU CHOOSE TO DRINK, DO SO MINDFULLY+ More
If you choose to drink, do so mindfully
People have different limits when it comes to alcohol
Many people make the decision not to drink alcohol at all. Pressuring someone to drink beyond their limit puts them at risk and creates more work for your host. That guest who drinks too much may get sick, need medical attention, or be unable to get home safely.
Trust your own limits
Be especially cautious if you are stressed or sleep-deprived, taking medication, have alcohol misuse in your family, or have diabetes. If you’ve chosen to drink alcohol, remember to pace yourself so that you’re sober enough to enjoy the party and the company of your friends. Tips for drinking safely:
- Think ahead to the party and decide if and how much you want to drink.
- Limit yourself to one drink per hour or 1½ hours.
- Hydrate! Alternate alcoholic drinks with water, seltzer, or soda.
- Ask and remind friends to support your decision about drinking limits.
- Avoid drinking games. “Drinking games are designed to have you fail and promote more drinking,” says Dr. Scott Lukas, a researcher in substance use and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Include people who don’t want to drink
- Offer nonalcoholic options if you’re offering to get the next round of drinks: “Does anyone want another beer or soda?”
- Suggest conversation and dancing—activities that don’t center on drinking. Think of something that everyone can take part in.
- Model reasonable drinking habits so that sober people feel comfortable being around you. Feel free to turn down a drink you don’t want with a quick “No thanks” or “Still working on this one.”
CHECK IN AGAIN BEFORE YOU LEAVE+ More
Check in again before you leave
Thank the host for a great party
Ask if they need anything before you head out: Can you lend a hand cleaning up? Can you walk someone home or give them a ride?
Don’t leave your host in the lurch
If your host is dealing with drunk or unruly guests, ask what you can do to help. Maybe you could suggest that everyone head out for pizza, help find the stragglers’ friends, or offer them a ride home.
FOLLOW UP+ More
Follow up the next day
Thank your host
They’ll be happy to hear what you enjoyed. If their party planning supported different ways to have fun, say how much you appreciated it.
Check in with anyone you may have been concerned about at the party
- If you weren’t able to act in the moment, don’t assume the opportunity has passed. You can always check in afterward: “I saw you at the party on Saturday. I was concerned. Did that work out OK?”
- This is especially effective if you are noticing an ongoing dynamic. You might get coffee with a friend to talk about their new relationship. You can also check in with a friend if their behavior has been a little pushy lately.
- If you are concerned about a friend’s behavior, it can be useful to talk to them later when there is time to sit down.
- Avoid taking an accusatory tone. Voice your concerns about the particular situation or pattern of behavior.
- Make sure your friend knows you’re bringing this up because you care about them and you want to look out for them. You can say something like: “I know you meant well” or “You know that I think you’re a great person.”
- You know your friend best: You’re equipped to figure out how to have a conversation about why it’s wrong to use pressure.
Melanie Boyd, PhD, assistant dean in student affairs at Yale University; lecturer in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.
Abbey, A. (2011). Alcohol’s role in sexual violence perpetration: Theoretical explanations, existing evidence, and future directions. Drug and Alcohol Review, 30(5), 481–489.
Abbey, A. (2002). Alcohol-related sexual assault: A common problem among college students [Supplement]. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 14, 118–128.
Benson, B. J., Gohm, C. L., & Gross, A. M. (2007). College women and sexual assault: The role of sex-related alcohol expectancies. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 341–351.
Banyard, V. L., Plante, E. G., & Moynihan, M. M. (2004). Bystander education: Bringing a broader community perspective to sexual violence prevention.
Journal of Community Psychology, 32(1), 61–79.
Bay-Cheng, L. Y., & Eliseo-Arras, R. K. (2008). The making of unwanted sex: Gendered and neoliberal norms in college women’s unwanted sexual experiences.
Journal of Sex Research, 45(4), 386–397.
Carmody, M. (2005). Ethical erotics: Reconceptualizing anti-rape education. Sexualities, 8(4), 465–480.
Hingson, R. W. & Howland, J. (2002). Comprehensive community interventions to promote health: Implications for college-age drinking problems.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol Supplement 14, 226–240.
Lindgren, K. P., Pantalone, D. W., Lewis, M. A., & George, W. H. (2009). College students’ perceptions about alcohol and consensual sexual behavior: Alcohol leads to sex.
Journal of Drug Education, 39(1), 1–21.
Mohler-Kuo, M., Dowdall, G. W., Koss, M. P., & Wechsler, H. (2004). Correlates of rape while intoxicated in a national sample of college women.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 65(1), 37–45.
Sweeney, B. N. (2011). The allure of the freshman girl: Peers, partying, and the sexual assault of first-year college women. Journal of College & Character, 12(4).
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Feel like throwing a party? If so, you’ll play an important role in shaping the social culture of your campus. Party throwers are the social engineers who design the spaces in which students meet, dance, talk, and sometimes drink or hook up. You can help build the campus you really want.
Party hosts are in a great position to help reduce the rates of campus sexual assault. Research consistently shows that sexual violence is not an isolated phenomenon; it occurs within a broader culture of pressure and disregard for others. By holding ourselves and each other to a higher standard, we can de-normalize the low-level disregard that is often a precursor to sexual violence. We should be concerned with pressure even when no one is out to cause harm, as we always deserve to have our boundaries and limits respected.
As a party thrower, you can create an environment that makes it easier for people to make mindful decisions in which mutual respect and recognition are the default. A great party involves thinking proactively about the kind of experience you want to create. What tone and vibe are you going for? How can you make sure your guests enjoy it? How can you arrange the space in ways that help people feel comfortable?
1. Talk it out
Get together with your roommates or cohosts and discuss your goals and responsibilities for the party:
- What do you want out of this event?
- If this party goes as well as it possibly could, what would that look like?
- What can help you get there?
- What might get in your way?
- What can you do to make space for people to participate in different ways? Of course you want your party to be fun, but fun means different things to different people.
If you’re throwing this party on behalf of a student organization or club, know your college’s policies, and consider opening up the conversation to all the members. Everyone should be on the same page about basic priorities. Think aloud about how those priorities align with your mission as a group. Also: Is this the first party you’re throwing with the newest members of your group? As seasoned members, you get to take the lead on modeling positive group dynamics: looking out for each other, treating guests with respect, and upholding your group’s values. Never throw a party in a shared home without your roommates’ agreement.
Talk to your neighbors
- It’s worth visiting your neighbors a few days before the party. Give them a heads-up. If appropriate, invite them. Let them know the day and time (start to end) and ask if they have anything going on then that you should keep in mind.
- Give them your phone number. Ask them to call or text if they have any concerns. Ideally, any noise complaints would be communicated to you first rather than to the police. Don’t forget to pay attention to your phone during the party.
Call up campus security
Consider giving your campus security department (or campus police) the same heads-up. Here’s why:
- They will get in touch with you if something happens in your area that you and your guests should be aware of.
- They may offer to give you a call if they get a complaint rather than showing up and shutting the party down.
- They can help you handle guests who shouldn’t be there and may be able to help people get to and from the party safely. Campus security and police often organize patrol duties based on where events are taking place.
Plan how you reach out to people to invite them to the party
- Promote the party using language that matches your priorities for this event. How you talk about a party can go a long way in helping your guests imagine what it will be like. What’s the tone or vibe you want for your party? How can you craft an invitation that communicates that to your guests? For example, if you don’t want people throwing up on your couch, don’t advertise the party with lots of alcohol images, because then you’re inviting people who want to get drunk enough to throw up on your couch.
- Think about how your theme and invitation may be perceived by people of different backgrounds.
- Consider including some language about your expectations for your guests. Are there “house rules” you want them to know about? For example:
- If you don’t have a lot of space, you could ask people to let you know if they’re bringing friends.
- If there are spaces in your venue that are off-limits, you can mention that in the invitation.
- You can include guidelines for behavior, (e.g., “Costumes are optional; respect for everyone is required,” or “We will set up before the party starts; please help us with cleanup before you leave”).
- Articulate your rules about serving alcohol to minors and drivers, and provide information on alternative transportation and parking.
2. Set up thoughtfully
As you set up, consider how your guests will interact with the space throughout your party. Music and dance are staples of a great party. So are conversations and personal connections.
If you are setting aside a dance floor, make sure you also have a quieter, more well-lit space where your guests can cool off, catch their breath, and talk. You might stock this space with cold water bottles, snacks, softer music, and a fan. A setup that makes room for conversation will help your guests communicate more clearly. This is especially important if two people are considering going home together. They can take a break from the loud dance floor to check in about what they want to do next.
If there are isolated spaces in your party venue, decide whether or not to keep them open and accessible. If you do, assign someone the task of checking in on those spaces during the party.
When you’re putting together the playlist or choosing entertainers or DJs, think about how well they fit your values and priorities for the event.
3. Welcome to the party!
Make a plan for how you will welcome your guests, help them feel comfortable, and check in on them throughout the party. As hosts, you will be especially attuned to the general mood. You can make the rounds, introduce people, and troubleshoot issues as they come up.
Hosts are well positioned to step in if they notice uncomfortable dynamics, like a guest experiencing unwanted attention or someone pressuring others to drink. It’s your party—you can check in whenever you notice something, no matter how small. The most effective interventions happen early, when (in many cases) they can be subtle.
Consider signaling who is hosting the party. Wear a signature piece of clothing, a vivid color, or silly hat. This helps guests know where to turn if anything comes up. They may need directions to the bathroom, escape from someone who is making them uncomfortable, or help turning away someone at the door or seeking medical attention for a friend who has overdone it.
If a large group is throwing the party, consider trading off “hosting duties” over the course of the evening.
Why it helps to have a designated greeter
Consider explicitly assigning someone (or a few people, depending on how big the party is) the task of greeting guests and inviting them in. It sets a friendly tone for the party and makes guests feel welcome in your space. Greeters (like alcohol servers) should not drink alcohol themselves.
This is also a good way of reminding guests of the “house rules” and checking in on them as they arrive. Are they arriving alone? Are they slurring their words? Do they seem wobbly on their feet? You might want to check in with someone’s friends, get them medical attention, not serve them alcohol, turn them away at the door, or send them home in a taxi.
Make it a habit to disrupt troubling dynamics early. This is usually easy: distract people, change the topic, make a joke. In some cases—for example, if someone is violating your community standards, potentially making you liable for negative consequences, or showing aggression—you may need to address the situation directly.
- Keep your cool. Controlling our tone and body language can be tricky, but it’s crucial to prevent the situation from escalating further.
- Make clear “I” statements. Telling someone that they are too drunk or too aggressive will only invoke defensiveness. Instead, try something like “I’m sorry, but we can’t let you in and risk violating community standards,” “We can’t give you another drink,” or “I’m calling a taxi to get you home.”
- Ask for help. If the situation seems volatile, enlist the help of others: your cohosts or close friends, friends of the person causing trouble (ask them to take their friend home), or campus police.
4. Can I offer you a drink?
If you intend to serve alcohol, come up with a plan for how you will keep your guests safe. Do your best to create an environment in which everyone can make mindful, deliberate choices about whether they want to drink and how much. Alcohol does not cause sexual violence, but it can make people more vulnerable to pressure or coercion (and sexual aggressors may deliberately use it this way). A successful party does not have to involve alcohol. Always provide plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. The legal age for drinking alcohol is 21.
Rather than leaving alcohol around for people to serve themselves, it’s worth assigning a couple of people that task. Here’s why this helps:
- Designated servers can mix tasty cocktails that complement the party theme, or just serve beer or wine.
- Designated servers are careful to measure and not over-pour drinks—a task that is infinitely more difficult for your distracted guests, who may have already been drinking.
- Designated servers can keep an eye out, noticing who has had too many drinks, who needs a glass of water, and who needs to switch to something nonalcoholic.
- For guests, this setup makes drinking an active choice rather than a default. It’s easier for people to count their drinks over the course of the evening.
Spot signs of trouble: Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the medical response resources available on your campus or in your community. If everything goes according to plan, your guests won’t need to use them.
Any of the following symptoms indicates alcohol poisoning. Call for medical help immediately:
- Can’t walk unassisted
- Unconscious and unresponsive
- Vomiting continuously
- Clammy skin or slow breathing
Many campuses offer classes on bartending skills and safe serving practices—often for free! If you’re involved in planning parties where alcohol may be served, sign up and attend a class to get yourself ready.
Tips for serving smartly and safely
- Keep the alcohol in one place so your guests drink only if they’ve made an active choice to do so. Having alcohol in multiple places suggests that drinking (and often drinking heavily) is the default. Consider giving guests a couple of tickets they can exchange for alcoholic drinks to help limit their consumption.
- Have some ice on hand. Your cocktails will feel fancier and your guests will take their time sipping their drinks. Don’t forget “mocktails” (festive nonalcoholic drinks) and plenty of water, caffeine-free sports drinks, and juice.
- Use proper measuring tools. If you’re serving hard liquor, use a 1-oz. shot glass to measure out drinks. Shot glasses have an excellent feedback loop to let you know when you’ve over-poured: they spill over.
Organizing a successful after-party
The party may have ended, but the after-party is just getting started.
- Make sure your guests have a safe way to get home. It’s your party until the very last stragglers head home. Have a list of taxi numbers and help your guests make the calls.
- Correction: It’s your party until everything has been cleared away. Well in advance, assign cleanup responsibilities so that everyone knows what is expected of them when the party ends. A little organization goes a long way.
- Find a time to talk with your cohosts and neighbors about what went well and what you want to do next time. Consider soliciting friendly feedback from your guests: Did they have a good time? What did they like about the party? What did they think was missing?
Alcohol does what we expect it to
Here’s how that works
We don’t need alcohol to socialize or have a good time. Alcohol doesn’t generate any new desires in us or give us any new skills. Science is proving that many of the effects we commonly associate with drunkenness are not biological or physiological. Instead, those effects are the result of our own beliefs and expectations.
You may have heard of studies in which participants falsely believe that they are consuming alcohol. Although their drinks look and smell alcoholic, these study participants have consumed no alcohol at all. Yet they behave “drunkenly”: they become loud, flirtatious, talkative, and sometimes inappropriate. Researchers call this effect “alcohol outcome expectancies.”
Any of the positive effects of alcohol that we experience are already within us. If you can be witty and charming after a couple of drinks, you can be witty and charming while sober.
More alcohol does not mean people will have more fun. If anything, more alcohol increases the chances that someone will damage your place and possessions, or become intoxicated to the point of alcohol poisoning and require medical attention. As party throwers, you are ultimately responsible for the health and well-being of your guests, whether or not they are are legally old enough to drink alcohol. The best thing you can do for your guests is to make it easier for them to pace themselves and drink responsibly.