October 25, 2018

EDITORIAL: The RPCC Heroes Were Active Bystanders, And You Should Be Too

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Rogelio Gordon and Ian Moritz ’22 are heroes. When they saw others in danger, the RPCC custodian and the freshman, respectively, leapt into action, putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the safety of their fellow Cornellians.

When a man — half-naked and possibly high on hallucinogens — attacked and threatened to rape several women on North Campus, Gordon tore him off of two women, and Moritz chased him down and subdued him until police arrived, according to police reports. Gordon and Moritz should be recognized for their selfless actions in service of our community.

They are also the consummate active bystanders. Instead of looking the other way or relying on someone else to act, they intervened to de-escalate and then neutralize a dangerous situation. Most of us will — hopefully — never be faced with a half-naked rampaging man on drugs, but we have all been in situations in which we can be active bystanders. Whether you are in a sweaty basement party, on a crowded TCAT bus, at a quiet dormitory or walking home to Collegetown, you can be alert to others around you. If you see someone in danger or in need of an assist, don’t keep walking or dancing. Stop and act.

Like colleges across America, Cornell has a sexual assault problem. Just this month, a New York State Department of Education report indicated that Cornell had the highest number of reported sexual assault incidents in the state, with 199 reports from January to May. Active bystanders can fight back, by helping people to exit situations before they become dangerous.

Gordon and Moritz are models for all Cornellians. We shudder to think what would have occurred had they not intervened. But as terrible as this one incident is to consider, we should learn what lessons we can from it.

Cornell offers bystander training through the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives, and we urge students, staff and faculty to read and share those materials. Each of us can play a part.