Active Bystander

Our understanding of a community is that individuals in the community take care of each other and support the values of the community. Taking appropriate action when you see harm sustains and protects you and your community.

Conflict Management@MIT's Active Bystander Program's goal is to lower the barriers to appropriate bystander action through awareness, knowledge, preparation and practice. Often you, as a bystander, will face some difficult choices. There are usually more options than you may think...and no single 'right' response. We hope that the tools on this website will help you assess bystander situations you find yourself in and evaluate your options for responding.

What is an Active Bystander
Everyone is a Bystander at some time.

A Bystander is a person who observes harm occurring, perhaps through conflict, perhaps through unnaceptable behavior.  It might be something serious or minor, one-time or repeated, but the Bystander feels that the behavior is harmful or likely to make a situation worse.

An Active Bystander takes steps that can make a difference:

  • First, an Active Bystander assesses a situation to determine what kind of action, if any, might be appropriate.
  • Second, an Active Bystander evaluates options and chooses a strategies for responding either at the time or later.
  • Whether or how an Active Bystander takes action will depend on the situation.

Why Does a Bystander's Response Matter?
It matters to the person(s) who is or may be harmed in the situation, it matters to the person(s) doing the harm, and it matters to the bystander(s).

If one person does something to another that contravenes community norms or values, and a bystander ignores it, then the person doing the harm may think such behavior is actually acceptable.

If no one speaks up in some way, the harmed person may think that nothing can be done, that no-one cares and that s/he will just have to live with such behavior.

Some Situations Where an Active Bystander Might Act

Rude, Inconsiderate or
Unprofessional Behavior


Inapropriate or Offensive Humor

Dangerous Behavior

Escalating or Destructive Conflict

Unfair or Discriminatory Behavior

Meanness or Bullying

Violation of Ethical Standards

-Inappropriate Advances 

Threats or Potential Violence