December 11, 2023

Contact: Lisa Rizzo


Cal Poly Expands National Bystander Intervention Study to Help Colleges Make Critical Changes to Support Students

Study spotlights college student experiences for universities to make informed changes to policies and intervention strategies

SAN LUIS OBISPO –– To address the ongoing social issues that cause student harm and deaths, WITH US: Center for Bystander Intervention at Cal Poly is inviting all U.S. universities to participate in its next National College Student Bystander Intervention Study (NCSBIS).

This year Cal Poly has partnered with the California State University system to administer the study to its 23 campuses. Nationwide, colleges and universities have until Feb. 1 to enroll.

The study offers a campuswide needs assessment of student’s bystander experiences, attitudes, motivations, skills and behavior. This information offers ways for universities to apply bystander intervention theory and practices into their campuses.  

“Our goal is to help campuses gather the information they need to make data-informed campus policies, programming and prevention strategies that help students be well and thrive,” Executive Director Kevin Grant said. “Effective programs in turn empower students to intervene and provide support to their peers, which improves campus safety and creates inclusive, supportive communities.”

The latest study shows that many students are already “upstanders.” When asked why they intervened to help someone, nearly half of students said they felt it was their ethical or moral responsibility to intervene, and 37% said they were motivated by the thought that they would want someone to help them in that situation.

“These are powerful responses,” Grant said, “which universities can use to inform communications campaigns to promote bystander intervention and change perceptions on their campuses.”

The NCSBIS focuses on factors that put students at risk for serious emotional and psychological harm, poor academic performance and attrition, and physical injury that is sometimes fatal. Student bystanders (witnesses) who may be present can act to prevent or reduce harm to their fellow students by confronting problem behaviors and practices, providing direct aid, support, protection and referrals to resources.  

“Students may not have the awareness or skills yet to offer help, and we want to change that by empowering campuses with data to create programs that nurture a culture of proactive bystanders,” said Grant.

Results of the study will help colleges identify barriers to helping among students who are commonly in their transition to adulthood when they encounter these high-risk situations for the first time.

For example, 2022 survey results show the majority of students say they believe students should say or do something when fellow students are at risk. About 78% of students reported they would be more willing to call for help if their university had a medical amnesty policy but only 30% were aware if their university had one.

Through participation in the 2024 study, universities will receive campus-specific data to help delve deeper into the barriers that prevent their students from stepping in and preventing harm to others in critical situations. The goal is to give campuses a way to assess what their students are experiencing and how their peers are responding to incidents that typically take place beyond the reach of counselors, deans, coaches, professors and campus police.

Students at participating campuses will have the opportunity to share their bystander experiences from January through May. Student responses recorded as part of the survey study are anonymous to ensure a high level of confidentiality.  

Since 2019, the center has surveyed more than 17,000 undergraduate students at colleges and universities throughout the United States. For additional information about the study visit


Scott and Julia Starkey founded Aware Awake Alive in 2011 following the death of their son, Carson Starkey, a first-year Cal Poly student who died of alcohol poisoning during a hazing incident in 2008. The Starkeys donated the program to Cal Poly in 2017 to broaden its mission and allow it to evolve into a university-based research center. In turn, the WITH US: Center for Bystander Intervention at Cal Poly was launched in February 2018 as an intervention research center with the mission to prevent harm and lives lost to hazing, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual assault, hate and bias, and other barriers to student health, safety and success. WITH US is housed within Cal Poly Student Affairs and is led by a team of experienced researchers, prevention practitioners, and student affairs leaders. For more information, visit

About Cal Poly Student Affairs  

Student Affairs supports student success through the Cal Poly experience by promoting Learn by Doing opportunities, delivering student-centered programs, encouraging personal growth, and empowering students to live within a safe, healthy, inclusive and supportive environment. For more information, visit

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Posted on:
December 11, 2023

Written by:
Lisa Rizzo

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