The night is young. Behind the half wall in Heorot's basement, six of us face the pong tables and observe; a guy in a red track suit catches my eye. He has a fuzzy purple band around his head and his phone protrudes from his hip like a lopsided love handle. He lip syncs entire stanzas of a country song until the music changes. The basement awakens to a hard electric beat.
I cast one last look around the basement. It's lively—a loud whistle sounds across the room and Red Track Suit yells, "I just won motherfucker!"— but still tame. Most of the basement is sitting on the half wall, sipping lightly on drinks and watching the game. One student says to her friend, "God, I haven't been here since freshman year." It's time to go.
I'm working on Green Team, a student organization founded in 2011 at Dartmouth College to prevent high-risk drinking and sexual assault. The program pays students $11 an hour to stay sober at events where alcohol is served and to intervene in situations that are or could turn ugly. As Green Team member Georgina Wilson put it: “You're paid to stand around and watch people party.”
During my first few shifts, I did a lot of watching. I watched a crowd of students flail to Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" at Psi U. I observed as a bartender at Bones Gate squirted alcohol at partygoers with a small, lime-green water gun. Through the muddled darkness of Sigma Delta's “To Infinity and Beyoncé” dance party, I inspected countless couples for consensual grinding. Once, my Green Team partner and I scrutinized a couple making out on Fraternity Row for a full minute. Was it consensual? In the end, we decided it was.
Green Team describes itself as a “bystander intervention initiative.” It is the only organization at Dartmouth of its kind. The Dartmouth Bystander Initiative (DBI) also focuses on bystander intervention but only offers education sessions. Green Team, on the other hand, applies intervention techniques on a weekly basis. Though bystanders are typically thought of as uninvolved spectators, both Green Team and DBI are pushing the idea of an "active" bystander, or one that interrupts incidents before they escalate into sexual assault or a high BAC.
It takes practice. Active bystanders have to stay cognizant of their surroundings—enough to notice off-color behavior—and have the chutzpah to speak up. During the Green Team training session this past spring, attendees were asked to brainstorm reasons not to intervene. The lengthy list included things like "YOLO" and "More drinking = more fun", but also: "Uncool", " Non-confrontational", "Might spread a rumor that you're a snitch", and " In your sorority/fraternity," all of which are dilemmas that can naturally arise during a Green Team shift. There are a lot of relationships at stake when working on Green Team: brotherhood, sisterhood, friendship, team camaraderie. Even between strangers, there is significant pressure against being a "buzzkill."
My interest in Green Team was piqued last winter, when one of my friends, Isaac Takushi, told me that someone smashed his phone in half and tried to strangle him after an intervention went awry during a shift. Given the hubbub around sexual assault and high-risk drinking on campus, I decided that Green Team warranted a closer look. I attended training and worked a total of five shifts that spring. My last shift was over Green Key weekend, when I finally stopped watching and made an intervention.
* * *
Joe* and I are perusing Frat Row, aimless shoppers with only two targets in mind: drunk people and crowds, preferably together. At the sound of music, we turn our heads. It's loud. I can hear the bass thudding the walls like a heartbeat amplified to a hundred decibels. It's Gammapalooza.
"They've already got a team working there," Joe says as we wistfully survey the Chi Gam lawn. Even though it's only 11 p.m., the lawn is bustling with activity. Gammapalooza hopefuls queue up by the front door as a couple cuddles on a sagging sofa parked nearby. On the other side of the lawn, a guy in a white T-shirt dribbles clear liquid into his mouth from a plastic bag. Near the sidewalk, a group of people light up. The scent of weed wafts over. "Too many townies out tonight," someone behind us remarks.
The lawn is cordoned off with orange plastic netting. A few Chi Gam brothers tasked with fence security stand near the entrance. “Do you have friends with Dartmouth IDs...?” one of the brothers asks a group of three. Meanwhile, a group of people on the right side of the lawn jump the fence. Frustrated by the line at the fence entrance, others follow.
I’ve seen enough. “Let's check it out,” I say to Joe. We pass through the checkpoint with flying colors—I knew one of the brothers and didn't even have to take out my Dartmouth ID—and walk up the sloping lawn to the front door. We're supposed to have Green Team bracelets to identify ourselves, but I never received one and Joe isn't wearing his. Not that it matters since working on Green Team doesn't affect our access to Greek houses. Like everyone else, we have to show our Dartmouth IDs at the door.
A large blond man stands in our way. His white T-Shirt stretches tightly across his broad chest, where muscles distort the green lettering that spell “Security.” He plants his feet squarely at the entrance and crosses his arms, his biceps bulging to the size of cantaloupes. He looks hired. “We're Green Team,” Joe and I chorus cheerfully as we show him our Dartmouth IDs. The man lets us in with a gruff nod.
The foyer of Chi Gam is dotted with chatting couples, who turn around as we walk in. To our left is the dance room. Joe and I enter the darkness, where a strobing light freckles our faces with green and orange dots. A fetid warmth surrounds us, cocooning us in the smell of spilled beer and sweaty skin.
The music washes over me in pulsing waves—it's so loud my skin hums. I jerk my arms to the beat, acutely aware of my sobriety. There's a nagging sense of disconnect where physically I feel everything—the pounding music, the heat, the movement—but emotionally I'm detached. I'm observing, not partaking. It's like watching everyone from a one-way mirror or dancing at a silent disco without headphones on. As I move to the music, I sweep my eyes over the dance floor, looking for trouble.
I find it in front of me: an intoxicated girl grinding against a less intoxicated guy. His arms are wrapped around her, bracing her as they move back and forth. She looks like she might collapse if he loosens his grip or steps in the wrong direction. One of the straps to her blue, paisley-printed blouse has slipped off her shoulder. It flops gently as they dance.
I approach the girl and tap her on the shoulder without ceremony:
She ignores me, so I do it again. “Hey, are you okay?”
The girl lifts her head. “Yeah,” she says dreamily, her face flushed and pink. “Yeah.”
I turn back to Joe, uncertain. “She says she's okay.” He nods, shrugging. We continue dancing. A few minutes later, Joe taps me on the shoulder and points to our right. A guy with dark curly hair is "dancing" with a blonde girl, who sways against his arms as they weave unsteadily to the music. He holds her up as he sucks desperately at her mouth. Her eyelids flutter.
Copying my last attempt, I tap her on the shoulder while they make out. “Hey,” I shout over the music. “Are you okay?”
She breaks away from a kiss and rolls her head toward me. Her blue eyes droop slightly. “I'm not on birth control,” she slurs, almost doubling over with effort. “I'm not on birth control!”
I squint at her, confused by her response. It occurs to me that I am making a real intervention. At training, I was taught a number of bystander intervention techniques, such as offering a cup of water. I blurt out the first one that comes to mind. “Your friends are looking for you,” I lie, waving my arms ambiguously over her head. “They're looking for you.”
“My friends?” The girl continues to sway as the guy in front of her reattaches himself to her mouth. She breaks away. “Oh, yeah. My friend. Claire*. She might be looking for me.”
“Yeah, they're looking for you,” I repeat. I watch as the couple starts to make out again. What now? Two other Green Team members stand behind them with their arms crossed. Both of them are over six feet tall, and they tower over the couple.
"How much have you drunk?" I ask the blonde, stalling as I try to recall other techniques.
Her dance partner turns and leans toward me. "I'm a good guy," he says. "I won't take advantage of her, I promise.”
“I'm asking her a question,” I retort, leaning closer so I don't have to shout.
“I promise,” her dance partner repeats. He looks earnestly into my face, his hand cupping my shoulder. “I'll even take her to S&S if you want me to.” We're so close now we're practically hugging. I can feel the air from his mouth as he speaks into my ear. I pull away.
"How much have you drunk?" I repeat to the girl, who is oblivious of my exchange with her dance partner.
“Five...five shots of vodka.” She mumbles through a curtain of hair.
“Do you want water?” I ask, not sure what to do if she doesn't. Thankfully, she nods. “Yeah."
I hoist one of her arms over my shoulder and help her off of the dance floor. She leans on me like a crutch and together, we shuffle out. Joe follows me, a step behind. Later, he’ll tell me that her dance partner tried to stop us from taking her away. With the help of two other Green Team members, Joe was able to restrain him.
“If I knew her, I would’ve punched that guy in the face,” Joe mutters.
After a few inquiries, I manage to obtain two miniature bottles of water for the girl. She chugs the first one. “I'm Bea*,” she says. “B. Like the letter.”
I nod. “I'm Eva. Where's your dorm?”
She takes another swig of water. “I don't go here," she says. “I'm an ’18."
Oh, shit. "Do you remember where you were staying?" I ask. Bea shakes her head. She doesn't.
I take the empty water bottle from her. “Do you want another one?” She takes the full bottle from me.
“I have a pretty low tolerance,” she says. “But I mean, as long as I'm not raped, I'm okay.”
I'm taken aback. Both Bea and her dance partner seem aware of the situation—the possibility of sexual assault, overdrinking—yet they continue to act as players in a script they’re both familiar with. They know how nights like this can end.
“Where are your friends?” I ask. She points unhelpfully toward the dance floor. I and another Green Team member convince her to sit down while we wait for Joe, who left earlier to locate Claire. A few minutes later, four of Bea’s friends rush out from the dance party and gather around her. One of them is the girl in the blue paisley shirt. Together they escort Bea out of Gammapalooza.
Joe and I leave Chi Gam and take a breather on the lawn. It's only 11:45 —about two more hours to go. "Let's go to Late Night later," I propose to Joe, who nods vigorously.
"We can go around 1," he says, sighing. "I can't wait to sit down."
Late Night Collis is heavily trafficked with drunk people on weekend nights, making it an acceptable location for Green Team. However, both Joe and I know that we're not going there to work. We want to spend the last hour of our shift eating mozzarella sticks and ice cream. Even though a Board member is supposed to monitor Green Team workers every shift, we aren't worried. Check-ins have been rare this term; during my five weeks, I never experienced one. Workers are supposed to text a Google Voice account to report their location; however, it's unclear how actively the account is maintained. I often feel like I'm sending texts into a void, where no one is reading them on the receiving end. Once, my team left Frat Row for a dorm party that our friends were throwing that night. For $11 an hour, we were paid to party.
While Green Team watches the rest of campus on weekend nights, I'm not sure who is watching Green Team. The "post-party" surveys that Green Team collects for payroll and data are not compiled or analyzed due to a lack of time, according to Board member Erica Hsu. In addition, the survey is outdated. The original survey from 2011 is still used, even though the organization has modified some of its policies and practices since then.
Green Team has a faculty adviser, Caitlin Barthelmes, but her main responsibility at the College isn't Green Team. She's a coordinator of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Education Program. Other than Barthelmes, Green Team is comprised entirely of students—over 500 of them. To join the organization, all you have to do is attend one training session sometime during your Dartmouth career.
"Ready?" Joe asks. I check my phone. It's not 1 o'clock yet, but it's close enough. Just as we leave, an ambulance turns down Frat Row. It illuminates the street in red as it slowly rolls toward Chi Gam, followed by a police cruiser and an EMS vehicle. Someone must have called a Good Sam at Gammapalooza. Joe and I walk down Frat Row together, letting the voices of our drunk classmates fade behind us as we head toward Late Night.
*Some names have been changed.
Originally published in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, August 2014.