Published: Sept. 16, 2021

Systemic racism continues to deeply affect our communities. As Buffs, it’s important that we address acts of racism (and other acts directed at those who are targeted or marginalized) when we see or hear them. There are many effective bystander strategies for helping others if you witness instances of harassment. 

Here are some ways you can interrupt racist actions and harassment and look out for each other.

Recruit others to help
If you notice a situation, you can alert others nearby or friends that something is happening. With more people aware of the situation, there are more people who are able to assist. If possible, find others who may know the people involved, who may have some kind of authority or who may bring a different skillset or vantage point to the situation.

What to say:
  • “Does that situation seem a little problematic to you?
  • “That seems messed up. We should do something.”
  • “I’m sorry to bother you. There’s a situation I need your help with.”

Go covert
A successful “covert” intervention might not look like an intervention at all to someone else watching the situation. Make your presence known and approach the person who’s being harassed. Make eye contact and greet them as if they were a friend you hadn’t seen in a while. Start talking to them with a simple conversation starter, like asking how their summer was or what they’ve been up to lately. Create distance or a barrier between the harasser and the person being harassed and start to walk away with the person being harassed.

Depending on the dynamics and whether it’s safe, another option might be to record the situation or enlist someone to record it while you take other action.

What to say:
  • “Hey, don’t we have class together? What did you think of that last project?”
  • “Haven’t I seen you at this bus stop/building before? Do you know when the next bus gets here/when they unlock the doors?”
  • I’m so glad that I ran into you - it’s been awhile. Come meet my friends.”

Be direct
Talk directly with the person being harassed and let them know you are there to support them. Ask them how you can help and take their lead. If a direct approach may escalate the situation, don’t engage with the harasser. Alternatively, if it does feel safe and possible, distract the harasser or tell them to stop. Asking them in a calm but firm manner to stop saying hurtful things or to leave the person alone can be an effective approach.

What to say:
  • “Are you okay?”
  • “You look upset, what can I do?”
  • “This situation is not okay. Let’s get out of here.”
  • To the harasser: “What you are doing is not okay. I need you to stop.”

Now vs. later
Sometimes helping doesn’t have to be limited to right there in the moment. Check in with the person who was harassed afterward and see what they might need. Ask if they’d like help reporting the situation or if you should call for help. Remember that for some people and communities, police presence can create additional fear or harm. Whenever possible, take the person’s lead about who to call for help and whether to call 911.

What to say:
  • “I saw/heard what happened. What can I do to help?”
  • “That was messed up. Do you want my help to call someone or report this?”
  • “I don’t want to do anything that makes things worse, and I’m here to help. Let me know what you need.” 

Campus Resources

You can help look out for your fellow Buffs and address others who may use racist language, tell racist jokes or engage in racist actions. You can learn more skills for having tough conversations or calling someone in about problematic comments or actions. It is critical we have these conversations--racist language and actions harm members of our community. 

There are resources available on campus:

If you or a friend have experienced a traumatic or life-disruptive event, the Office of Victim Assistance provides free and confidential support, short-term counseling and advocacy for CU Boulder students, grad students, staff and faculty.