Can Students Police Themselves?

A report from the front lines.

The night is young. Behind the half wall in Heorot’s basement, six of us face the pong tables and observe. A guy in a red tracksuit catches my eye. He has a fuzzy purple band around his head and his phone protrudes from his hip like a lopsided love handle. He lip- syncs entire stanzas of a country song until the music changes. The basement awakens to a hard electric beat.

I’m working on Green Team (GT), a student organization founded in 2011 to prevent high-risk drinking and sexual assault. The program pays students $11 an hour to stay sober at events where alcohol is served and to intervene in situations that are or could turn ugly. “You’re paid to stand around and watch people party,” says GT member Georgina Wilson ’16.

My interest in GT was piqued last winter when my friend, Isaac Takushi ’14, told me a very drunk student smashed his phone in half and tried to strangle him after an intervention went awry during his GT shift.  Given the hubbub around sexual assault and high-risk drinking on campus, I decided that GT warranted a closer look. I attended training and worked a total of five shifts that spring.

During my first few shifts I did a lot of watching. I watched a crowd of students flail to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” at Psi U. I observed as a bartender at Bones Gate squirted alcohol at partygoers with a small, lime-green water gun. At Sigma Delta’s “To Infinity and Beyoncé” dance party, I inspected countless couples for consensual grinding. Once my GT partner and I scrutinized a couple making out on fraternity row for a full minute before we determined we could move on. 

GT describes itself as a “bystander intervention initiative.” It is the only organization at Dartmouth of its kind. The College-run Bystander Initiative offers only education sessions. GT applies intervention techniques on a weekly basis. It isn’t always easy. There are a lot of relationships at stake when working on GT: brotherhood, sisterhood, friendship, team camaraderie. Even between strangers, there is a significant pressure against being a “buzzkill.”

My partner, whom I’ll call Joe, and I are perusing frat row, aimless shoppers with only two targets in mind: drunk people and crowds, preferably together. At the sound of music, we turn our heads. It’s loud. I can hear the bass thudding like a heartbeat amplified to a hundred decibels. It’s Gammapalooza.

We’re working on GT Mobile, a shift that allows workers to “follow the risk,” according to GT board member Kristy Blackwood ’14. Workers on GT Mobile are free to float between venues, where risk refers to large packs of drunk people. On regular GT shifts, workers are assigned to specific events, such as a Friday night rock concert or a frat dance party. On those shifts, workers have to stay in one location for the entirety of their shifts, no matter how empty or tame the event is.

“They’ve already got a team working there,” Joe says as we wistfully survey the Chi Gam lawn. Even though it’s only 11 p.m., the lawn bustles with activity. Gammapalooza hopefuls queue up by the front door as a couple cuddles on a sagging sofa parked nearby. On the other side of the lawn a guy in a white T-shirt dribbles clear liquid into his mouth from a plastic bag. Near the sidewalk, a group of people light up. The scent of weed wafts over. “Too many townies out tonight,” someone behind us remarks.

At Sigma Delta’s “To Infinity and Beyoncé” dance party, I inspected countless couples for consensual grinding. I scrutinized a couple making out on fraternity row for a full minute before we determined we could move on. 

The lawn is cordoned off with orange plastic netting. A few Chi Gam brothers tasked with fence security stand near the entrance. “Do you have friends with Dartmouth IDs?” one of the brothers asks a group of three. Meanwhile, a group of people on the right side of the lawn jumps the fence. Frustrated by the line at the fence entrance, others follow.

I’ve seen enough. “Let’s check it out,” I say to Joe. We pass through the checkpoint with flying colors—I know one of the brothers and don’t even have to take out my Dartmouth ID—and walk up the sloping lawn to the front door. We’re supposed to have GT bracelets to identify ourselves, but I never received one and Joe isn’t wearing his. Not that it matters, since working on GT doesn’t affect our access to Greek houses. Like everyone else, we have to show our Dartmouth IDs at the door.

A large blond man stands in our way. His T-shirt stretches tightly across his broad chest, where muscles distort the green lettering that spell “Security.”

He plants his feet squarely at the entrance and crosses his arms, his biceps bulging to the size of cantaloupes. He looks hired. “We’re GT,” Joe and I chorus cheerfully as we show him our Dartmouth IDs. The man lets us in with a gruff nod.

In the dance room a fetid warmth surrounds us. The music washes over me in pulsing waves. It’s so loud my skin hums. I jerk my arms to the beat, acutely aware of my sobriety. There’s a nagging sense of disconnect where physically I feel everything—the pounding music, the heat, the movement—but I’m emotionally detached. As I move to the music I sweep my eyes over the dance floor, looking for trouble.

I find it in front of me: an intoxicated girl grinding against a less intoxicated guy. His arms are wrapped around her, bracing her as they move back and forth. She looks like she might collapse if he loosens his grip or steps in the wrong direction. One of the straps of her blue, paisley-printed blouse has slipped off her shoulder. It flops gently as they dance.

I approach the girl and tap her on the shoulder without ceremony: “Hey.” She ignores me, so I do it again. “Hey, are you okay?” The girl lifts her head. “Yeah,” she says dreamily, her face flushed and pink. “Yeah.”

I turn back to Joe, uncertain. “She says she’s okay.” He nods and we continue dancing. A few minutes later Joe taps me on the shoulder and points to our right. A guy with dark curly hair is “dancing” with a blonde girl, who sways against his arms as they move unsteadily to the music. He holds her up as he sucks desperately at her mouth. Her eyelids flutter.

Copying my last attempt, I tap the girl on the shoulder while they make out. “Hey,” I shout over the music. “Are you okay?” She breaks away from a kiss and rolls her head toward me. Her blue eyes droop slightly. “I’m not on birth control,” she slurs, almost doubling over with effort. “I’m not on birth control!”

I squint at her, confused by her response. It occurs to me that I am making a real intervention. At training I was taught a number of bystander intervention techniques, such as offering a cup of water. I blurt out the first one that comes to mind. “Your friends are looking for you,” I lie, waving my arms ambiguously over her head. “They’re looking for you.”

“My friends?” The girl continues to sway as the guy in front of her reattaches himself to her mouth. She again breaks away. “Oh, yeah. My friend. She might be looking for me.”

“Yeah, they’re looking for you,” I repeat. I watch as the couple starts to make out again. What now? Two other GT members stand behind them with their arms crossed. Both of them are more than six feet tall, and they tower over the couple.

“How much have you drunk?” I ask the blonde, stalling as I try to recall other techniques. Her dance partner turns and leans toward me. “I’m a good guy,” he says. “I won’t take advantage of her, I promise.”

“I’m asking her a question” I retort, leaning closer so I don’t have to shout.

“I promise,” her dance partner repeats. He looks earnestly into my face, his hand cupping my shoulder. “I’ll even take her to S&S if you want me to.” We’re so close now we’re practically hugging. I can feel the air from his mouth as he speaks into my ear. I pull away.

“How much have you drunk?” I repeat to the girl, who is oblivious of my exchange with her dance partner. “Five…five shots of vodka.” She mumbles through a curtain of hair.

“Do you want water?” I ask, hoping she’ll say yes. At this point I’ve run out of intervention techniques. Thankfully, she nods. “Yeah.”

I hoist one of her arms over my shoulder and help her off the dance floor. She leans on me like a crutch and together we shuffle out. Joe follows me, a step behind. Later he’ll tell me that her dance partner tried to stop us from taking her away. With the help of the two other GT members, Joe was able to restrain him. “If I knew her, I would’ve punched that guy in the face,” Joe mutters.

After a few inquiries I manage to obtain two bottles of water for the girl. She chugs the first one. “I’m Bea (not her real name),” she says. “B. Like the letter.” I nod. “I’m Eva. Where’s your dorm?”

She takes another swig of water. “I don’t go here,” she says. “I’m an ’18.”

Oh shit. “Do you remember where you were staying?” I ask. Bea shakes her head. She doesn’t.

I take the empty water bottle from her. “Do you want another one?” She takes the full bottle from me. “I have a pretty low tolerance,” she says. “But I mean, as long as I’m not raped, I’m okay.”

I’m taken aback. Both Bea and her dance partner seem aware of the situation—the possibility of sexual assault, overdrinking—yet they continue to act as players in a script they’re both familiar with. They know how nights like this can end.

“Where are your friends?” I ask. She points unhelpfully toward the dance floor. I and another GT member convince her to sit down while we wait for Joe, who left earlier to locate Bea’s friend. A few minutes later four of Bea’s friends rush out from the dance party and gather around her. One of them is the girl in the blue paisley shirt I had approached earlier that evening. Together they escort Bea out of Gammapalooza.

Joe and I leave Chi Gam soon after they leave. We take a breather on the lawn. It’s only 11:45—about two more hours to go.

“Let’s go to Late Night later,” I propose to Joe, who nods vigorously. “We can go around 1,” he says, sighing. “I can’t wait to sit down.”

Late Night Collis is heavily trafficked with drunk people on weekend nights, making it an acceptable location for GT Mobile. However, both Joe and I know that we’re not going there to work. We want to spend the last hour of our shift eating mozzarella sticks and ice cream. Even though a board member is supposed to monitor mobile teams every shift, we aren’t worried. Check-ins have been rare this term. During my five weeks I never experienced one. Workers are supposed to text a Google Voice account to report their locations, but it’s unclear how actively the account is maintained. I often feel like I’m sending texts into a void. Once my team left frat row for a dorm party that our friends were throwing that night. For $11 an hour, we were paid to party.

While GT watches the rest of campus on weekend nights, I’m not sure who is watching GT. The post-party surveys the GT board collects for payroll and data are not compiled or analyzed due to a lack of time, according to board member Erica Hsu ’15.

GT has an advisor, Caitlin Barthelmes, who supports the program in her role as coordinator of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Education Program, which operates out of the dean of the College office. Other than Barthelmes, GT is comprised of students—more than 500 of them. To join the organization all students must do is attend one training session sometime during their Dartmouth careers.

“Ready?” Joe asks. I check my phone. It’s not 1 a.m. yet, but it’s close enough. Since our intervention, Joe and I have been loitering on the lawn. Just as we leave, an ambulance turns down frat row. It illuminates the street in red as it slowly rolls toward Chi Gam. Someone must have called a Good Sam from inside Gammapalooza. Joe and I walk down frat row together, letting the voices of our drunk classmates and the noise from the sirens fade behind us.

Eva Xiao, a computer science major and creative writing minor, works for Education First in Shanghai, China. 

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