‘Colonels Don’t Stand By’ program aims to empower students

Sexual misconduct on college campuses is widely considered an issue plaguing the nation. Wilkes University aims to take a stand against this injustice, and is working to empower students with the Colonels Don’t Stand By program.

The program was started in 2014 by Associate Dean Philip J. Ruthkosky and a member of the Prevention Education Specialists at the Victim’s Resource Center.  It was originally an initiative to promote bystander awareness, but has grown into an important program.

One of the main components of the program is the Bystander Intervention Program. Title IX coordinator Samantha Hart said, “[This is] a program that is geared toward empowering students, faculty and staff to take accountability in being part of the educational prevention, and the response, of sexual assaults that are occurring, not only on our campus, but nationwide.”

During Welcome Weekend, incoming freshmen listened to a presentation by a member of the Victim’s Resource Center. Students were informed how to safely help a person they may or may not know, and avoid a possible case of sexual violence and assault.

Freshmen viewed a video created by Wilkes students called Colonels Don’t Stand By. This short film explains a story of two people, a man and a woman, at a party and the process of how sexual violence occurs. The video concludes by showing how bystanders can step in and save someone from a negative outcome.

Students who want to become involved in this prevention first hand program have the opportunity to go through a training process that will instruct them how to safely intervene in a situation that could potentially involve sexual misconduct.

“I think it is important that everyone recognizes that we have a problem with sexual assault and consent in general, and that everyone is responsible for fixing the issue,” Kaitlin Yurko, a member of the bystander program said. 

Students complete this training while accompanied by a faculty member and then begin the First Year Foundation courses. It is important for students to be able to talk to another peer that they can relate to more than an administer.

“[Peer lead discussions is] one of the goals of our program and one of my philosophies, … it could be a more profound message to have it said directly from a peer,”  Ruthkosky said.

The peer led discussions allow students to become more vulnerable and engage in conversations they are not necessarily used to having.

“It shows students that their peers care about everyone’s well being on campus, and that students are willing to take the time to promote Bystander Intervention,”  Maverick Reed, a member of the bystander program said.

Since most cases involving sexual violence are often personal and not openly discussed, “many of the successes of this program will go unseen,”  Ruthkosky said.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf launched a campaign known as “It’s On Us,” back in 2016. This is a movement that encourages everyone to take a pledge in ending sexual violence on college campuses. Wilkes University followed this pledge and created another short film called “It’s On Us” featuring students explaining that no matter who commits the acts, where they are committed, when they are committed, it’s on us as a community to stop this violence. The message follows that it doesn’t matter who the victim was, or whether we know them or not – students have to make a change, because they are colonels.

Ruthkosky said it is an ongoing issue and Wilkes University is making a huge effort to combat sexual violence. These programs will continue to help empower individuals in the Wilkes University community to take a stand against a pressing issue.

For students, faculty or staff interested in the Colonels Don’t Stand By program, or in becoming peer trainers for the Bystander Intervention program please contact Associate Dean Philip J. Ruthkosky, Ph.D. at [email protected] or Samantha Hart at [email protected] for more information and applications.