Why Good People Do Bad Things

Dr. Rona Novick, Dean, Azrieli Graduate School
Dr. Rona Novick

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, three clubs at Stern College for Women—Social Awareness (Bullying Prevention) Club, Project IncludED and Psychology Club—invited Dr. Rona Novick, dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and a clinical psychologist with an expertise in bully prevention, to speak on “Why Good People Do Bad Things : Understanding Exclusion, Bullying, and the Role We All Play.”

Defining bullying as the “deliberate abuse of power to cause harm to another,” the focus of the presentation was on bystanders and why in many, if not most cases, bystanders fail to help stop that “harm to another.”

Dr. Novick shared research on the psychological phenomena of social conformity, bystander apathy and the dehumanization of victims, all of which suppress prosocial bystander responses.  She argued that a major impediment to bystander engagement is that the bystanders feel that they do not have any safe ways to make a difference. So, a solution might be educational efforts that teach people strategies like using distraction, ensuring victims are not isolated and supported, and reporting negative exclusionary behavior.

One participant asked, especially as students consider transitioning into the workplace, about which strategies might be the most effective to apply in work settings.  This led to a spirited discussion about power imbalances and handling workplace harassment.

Dr. Novick and the participants also discussed the devastating mental health consequences for victims, yet another compelling reason for what Dr. Novick called “socially responsive bystanding.”

“I’m so appreciative of these student clubs focusing on the issue of bullying,” said Dr. Novick, “and especially on what each of us can do to make a positive difference.”