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Bystander Success Stories

Below are some stories about real bystander incidents that have been submitted by members of the MIT community.

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Standing Ground

Dear Mediation@MIT:

A few weeks ago I went to a sandwich shop for lunch. When I got in line, a youngish couple at a nearby table started arguing very loudly. The man was berating the woman; nobody budged. So, I walked right over to their table. Just as I did, the guy picked up a bag that belonged to the woman and hurled it across the room (!).

So, she goes to pick it up. I wait there, arms crossed just looking at the guy, waiting for her to get back. I asked "are you two going to be okay?" I did this in an even tone, but really direct and to the point, while standing there in a sturdy way as if to say "you take a swing at me, buddy, so help me I'll drop you but quick." the guy sheepishly said "Yeah." I said, "good," and walked back to the line. Everyone looked a little relived, but they also were a little scared to look at me, too, for some reason. I got my food and sat at a table sort of near them, but with my back to them. I didn't want to be too confrontational, but remind him that there were still people in the place that were noticing what was going on.

This is always a tough situation. I've been told that when you see a man possibly being abusive to a woman in a public place, it isn't necessarily wise to confront, as he'll probably take it out on her more when they get home. I'm not sure I agree with this, as I think both the man and the woman need to have outside input, during the confrontation, from the community, saying "something is wrong here."


Racial Profiling

An African American woman reported an incident in the 1980's when she offered her credit card to the clerk, who took down a booklet listing stolen credit cards to check it. A white woman who had just finished paying challenged the clerk, "Why are you taking down that book? You didn't look at it when I paid by credit card, or the white person before me? Are you checking it just because she's black?" The African American woman remembers the incident almost 20 years later.

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