Business Power: Athens businesses try to combat harassment

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While some activists show support for their causes by creating signs and publicly protesting, others are using other methods to create and influence change. One local group is working with local businesses to help create a more welcoming environment for people from all walks of life.

People’s Justice League is an organization dedicated to creating safer streets, establishments, and gathering places in Southeast Ohio. Since 2013 the organization’s director, Sarah Fick, has offered training to local businesses to help them be more welcoming to marginalized groups.

“At the beginning, we went around to all of the bar owners in the area with letters and knocked on doors to see who was interested,” Fick said. “And largely the answer was no. It was either we don’t have time for this, or we don’t have the funds for this or whatever.

After the employees of a business complete the one to two-hour training, they receive a sticker and a plaque to present to their customers. In the training, the employees are taught how to shut down microaggressions or offensive jokes and how these situations can escalate into bigger problems.

“If we set the stage early on that jokes or whatever are not going to be tolerated in this space, then that is going to send the message loud and clear that we aren’t going to allow things to escalate,” Fick said.

Despite good intentions, some believe that two hours isn’t enough time to be equipped to deal with a wide range of harassment issues. Casi Arnold used to be an RA and ARD in gender-neutral housing at Ohio University and went through over six hours of diversity training a semester.

“I think two hours working in a business where things are very necessary, especially places like bars, two hours, isolated, alone, doesn’t feel like a lot,” Arnold said. “The fact that they offer it at all is a good thing, but you don’t just learn these things once. I feel like employees or anyone working there should do a few times.”

Over at Jackie O’s — manager AJ Castro says the training is a useful resource for his employees.

We had had issues – just being in an environment that was very alcohol-driven, we had known that it was an important thing for us to try and train our staff to be able to intervene in instances that were uncomfortable,” Castro said.

The Active Bystander Certified campaign is expanding in Southeastern Ohio and Fick hopes that if the People’s Justice League gets more resources, they will be able to work with even more local businesses and festivals, such as Casa Nueva Restaurant and Cantina, The Smiling Skull Saloon and Nelsonville Music Festival.

Active Bystander training may not only teach different workplaces how to deal with lower levels of harassment, it may also be a good business move in terms of capital.

“I imagine that there are some demographics by knowing we are a safe space, or at least I hope so,” Castro said.

Students tend to be the target audience of many businesses on Court Street. For Sycamore High School senior Ethan Cohen, who identifies as gay, he cares about where he spends his money. As he is looking at which college he plans to attend, whether businesses care about this sort of training is a factor in his decision.

“I would be more likely to attend events or go to bars or restaurants that advertise that they are friendly to the community I am a part of as opposed to people that don’t,” Cohen said.

In the end, however, what is most important is that this training will allow businesses in Athens to provide safe tactics to prevent harassment within the workspace, ultimately leading to happier staffs and a safer environment.