Denison gets a taste of local bystander intervention

The Food and Culture Colloquium, a series of lectures involving the culture of cuisine, returned to campus on Jan. 23. In a panel entitled “Equality on the Line: Local Food Culture and a Story of Bystander Intervention,” four prominent figures came to campus to discuss an event that occurred in Columbus’ Short North District and went viral online.

 

The Short North is the arts district of Columbus, home to many restaurants, including Mikey’s Late Night Slice. Owned by panelist Mikey Sorboro for three and a half years, this small business represented the Short North’s tolerance one night at the end of 2012.

 

Joel Diaz, the Chief Development Officer of the Aids Resource Center Ohio, recalled when he was standing in line at the Late Night Slice with a friend. “We got in line… we were huddling close together, and we were talking and joking about what had happened that night… All of a sudden a guy in front of us turned around and said, ‘you guys need to cut that gay shit out’. It was really surprising, I was shocked, to hear someone say that in the neighborhood.”

 

After this, the other people in line stood up for Diaz and his friend, followed by Levi, a Late Night Slice employee, who, according to Diaz, “popped his head out and said, ‘you need calm down… you can either cool down or you can get out of line.’” Diaz explained the whole situation, “I thought it was really incredible to experience something where complete strangers stood up for us.” After that night, Diaz posted his story on facebook, where it quickly went viral, spreading through Reddit and a Huffington Post article that Diaz later wrote.

 

But Sorboro said this was not surprising for his employees. “I’ve been in that neighborhood for about eight years now, and it’s just a commonality in that area to be that tolerant, so it didn’t really shock me when it happened.” Instead, he was surprised at the traffic generated to his company’s websites, and with the help of his business partner, the traffic was turned into a fundraiser for Equality Ohio, Ohio’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) advocacy organization.

 

According to Krista Benson, a Ph.D. student at the Ohio State University with experience in bystander intervention, this reaction was not consistent with behavioral studies on intervention: “One of the things we know about bystander intervention is that, actually, the more people there are around, the less likely people are to intervene. And the more an area is considered to be safe, the less likely people are to intervene… Short North is a very accepting neighborhood, it’s a very diverse neighborhood, but actually, according to the studies, what happened that night shouldn’t have happened. So it is commendable that the people in that line took a stand.”

 

The final panel member, Grant Stancliff, is the communications director for Equality Ohio. He explained the sharing of this story as a result of its positivity: “A whole bunch of people reading this thought, ‘In the world that I want to live in, that’s actually how this should play out. That’s worth sharing. What’s not worth sharing is… people being treated badly. We don’t care about that because it happens daily.’”

 

For many students, it was eye-opening to hear from the panelists. Cassie Sagness, an undeclared first-year from Cincinnati, said: “Their story was a good reminder that living on such an accepting campus, it’s easy to forget that closed-mindedness resulting in hatred is existent in areas so close to home.”

 

The Food and Culture Colloquium will continue, with a lecture every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Slayter Auditorium.