Award-Winning Intervention Program Gaining National Attention
If you saw a stranger in danger, what would you do? The STEP UP! program developed at the UA to train students how to deal with difficult events in social situations has been adopted or adapted by dozens of institutions and organizations nationwide.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
Oct. 15, 2010

Dozens of institutions and organizations across the nation are turning to the University of Arizona for help implementing a program to train people how to take action in potentially dangerous situations.

Created in 2006, the UA's STEP UP! Be a Leader Make a Difference program was built on the premise that some of the most challenging situations happen in social contexts, and that some people don't take action when others are in obvious need of help. 

Founded by Becky Bell, the associate athletics director at the UA, the program trains individuals on what to look out for and how to intervene, depending on the situation. 

"It is a very comprehensive program, and facilitators adapt it to their own populations," said Bell, who created the program while director of the UA's C.A.T.S. Life Skills Program.

Specifically, the program – which earned the 2009 NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education Excellence "Gold" Award – addresses drugs and alcohol, anger, depression, discrimination, eating disorders, hazing, relationship abuse and other challenging issues.

"Many problems are preventable. We've got to act a little quicker and take things a bit more seriously," Bell said.

Bell designed the program with other nationwide experts through a collaboration with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is now one of its sponsors.

And since its inception, about 70 other institutions have either adopted or adapted the program. They include Arizona State University, Colorado State University, Lehigh University, Pima Community College, Purdue University, Princeton University, Penn State and Texas A&M University. 

Other supporters of the program include the Division 1A Athletic Director's Association, the Pacific-10 Conference and the Coalition Against Rape and Abuse.

"What’s great is how powerful the message becomes when it’s implemented across a campus because it is one approach with everyone speaking the same language and reinforcing the same ideas," Bell said.

While STEP UP! was originally meant for student athletes, it is now reaching a much broader audience including Greek life organizations, Campus Health Services, sexual assault prevention specialists and multicultural and diversity centers. Also, faculty members have begun teaching the program in their classes.

A part of the program focuses on proactive measures, teaching people how to handle situations before they rise to the status of a problem or crisis, emphasizing that help can be either direct or indirect.

STEP UP! attempts to reinforce that the moment a person notices a problem, or if someone asks for help, that individual should respond.

"There are sometimes legitimate reasons why people don't get involved, and we certainly don’t want them to make a situation worse," Bell said. "So you have to know how to help effectively."

STEP UP! is flexible and in-depth, offering training on at least 10 different topics, and it is united around a key issue: the bystander effect – a phenomenon in which someone is less likely to intervene in a problematic situation when others are present than when he or she is alone.

Instances of bystander inaction reported by mainstream media have involved bullying, gang rape, hit and runs and a woman dying in a hospital waiting room.

The program attempts to reinforce that the moment you are witness to an event, or if someone asks for help, you should respond immediately.

Scott Goldman, a UA clinical and sports psychologist with Campus Health Service who works primarily with student-athletes, said the program focuses on five specific actions.

In order, the individual must witness a situation, then interpret it as a problem. That individual then must judge whether or not they will offer help – a process of rationalization. Lastly, the person must decide what to do, then take action.

"To do something is the final step, but within each of those steps there are blocks and obstacles," said Goldman, who has been involved with STEP UP! for several years.

"You have to see something going on, but people are sometimes preoccupied in their own worlds," he said, adding that some simply do not want to get involved, deferring the action to an authority figure, for instance.

"The program is all about trying to educate people that this is more of a human tendency, but they need to break the habit," Goldman said.

The program is one the UA community should not only be proud of but should also actively engage in, Goldman said. He and Bell both said given the importance of social settings in the range of issues STEP UP! addresses, people need to become more attuned to the ways in which they can help one another.

“We need to do a better job of teaching about bystander effect and encouraging people to do the right thing. We can all step up and do something," said Bell, who will soon be traveling to California and Virginia to offer training on the program to interested schools. "We can all step up and do something."

Extra info

Campus Health Service will hold an infomormation session on STEP UP! geared toward faculty members. 


The Oct. 27 event will be held 5-6:30 p.m. in Room B207 of the Highland Commons Building.


The unit received a U.S. Department of Education grant in 2009 to adapt the program, focusing on interpersonal violence on campus. 


To register to attend or to learn more about the session, contact Melanie Fleck at or 520-621-3941.


Resources for the media

Becky Bell

Arizona Athletics