“Jeff O’Brien and his team articulate their message in a way that many student-athletes have not heard, whether it be through reflexive thought or active participation, they have unequivocally gotten our student-athletes’ attention. We are confident that the MVP program has made a difference in the lives of our student-athletes.”
Associate Athletics Director / Director of Student-Athlete Support Services, Michigan State University
The heart of the MVP model is interactive discussion, in single-sex and mixed-gender workshops, using real-life scenarios that speak to the experiences of young men and women in college, high school, and other areas of social life. Part of what makes MVP unique is that we teach bystander intervention skills from a social justice perspective. We talk about power and privilege — or the absence of it — and how this shapes our interactions. It is important in an educational context to be honest and realistic. Especially when we are challenging participants to be proactive bystanders in the face of difficult social and work situations. People often do not act because they fear the loss of their job, or even career, if they challenge a powerful man.
Active Learning Strategies
Un-initiated observers to an MVP training session are often confused by what they see. Participants who minutes ago entered the room “kicking and screaming” are now engaged in a spirited discussion, challenging one another on a thought or idea. They may be out of their seats and spread around the room, taking a stand on whether they agree, disagree, or are unsure about a particular statement that MVP trainers have posed. This is what generally happens when your educational philosophy matches your target audience and is delivered by the appropriate messengers.
How do we make this happen? The first thing to understand is that MVP training sessions are facilitated discussions, not lectures, and they are highly interactive. Research shows us that retention levels for participants in active learning groups follow a positive retention trajectory, while participants in passive learning groups follow a negative retention trajectory. This proves what we intuitively know—the more interested and engaged someone is, the more they will learn.
Most of our activities relay realistic social scenarios. Participants discuss them and then brainstorm strategies to confront or interrupt abusive behavior involving peers. Our trainers utilize a “Socratic method” which encompasses the belief that the answers are in the room if we just ask the right questions. This is an adjustment for many participants—they generally start the training being relatively quiet but quickly realize that their thoughts matter and begin to engage.
For example, one activity called “Agree, Disagree, Unsure” is based on having participants respond to the question: “Is it okay for two intoxicated adults to engage in sexual activity?” After giving the group time to think about their responses, we ask them to walk to a section of the room based on whether they agree, disagree, or are unsure about the statement. Through this activity, we can engage the group in conversation about alcohol and sexual consent, consent in all situations, and gender expectations around sex. We also get them moving, which breaks down any passive learning dynamics. The physical movement strategy has proven extremely effective.
Multiple learning approaches are used. For example, during the above activity, we will have the participants tell each other what they know about the law regarding alcohol and sexual consent. And we write their responses for how they know they have consent on the board. This provides both verbal and written experiences.
The overall idea is to create a healthy tension, which challenges participants to understand and embrace the necessity of their actions as leaders and proactive bystanders when faced with these issues. The energy generated through an activity like this is hard to describe, but we refer to it as the switch that turns the light on in our trainings. Participants experience a paradigm shift in attitude about sexual violence, which empowers them.
The training opens dialogue regarding participant leadership around many different issues. We focus on: the social construction of masculinity as it relates to unhealthy behavior, sexual objectification of women, sexual harassment, battering, and sexual assault.
Peer teaching strategies have also been successful for us. These can be formal or informal. A formal strategy is having a “train the trainer” program and empowering participants to become a mentor among their peers. Informally, this works by discussing with participants their perspectives on issues during a short training period. It may be as simple as asking a participant if s/he agrees with something problematic that one of their peers has said. This gives that participant an opportunity to show leadership by offering a different point of view.