The “In” Group provides an opportunity to discuss themes such as conformity, peer pressure, and belonging—themes that resonate with students’ own experiences and that have shaped the behaviour of individuals throughout history. Often when students think about acts of injustice, they divide those involved into two groups: the victims and the perpetrators. Yet others contribute to the prevention or the perpetuation of injustice. For example, a bystander is someone who witnesses or knows about an act of injustice but chooses not to do anything about it. On the other hand, when confronted with information about an unjust act, an upstander takes steps to prevent or stop this act from continuing.
That being said, bystander and upstander behaviour is not always so clear. For example, under the label upstander, we often list those who take a variety of actions, including resistance and rescue. However, upstanders might also include those who are able to maintain a part of their identity despite opposition, such as people who continue to secretly practice their religious faith despite persecution or others who refuse to give up hope in the face of injustice and adversity. The term bystander can be even more complicated. In most dictionaries, it means a person who is simply “standing by” or who is present without taking part in what is going on—a passive spectator. But some scholars, like psychologist Ervin Staub, believe that even passive spectators play a crucial role in defining the meaning of events by implicitly approving the actions of perpetrators. The choice not to act or speak up is still a choice.
It is important to recognise that it is not these labels themselves, as words, that matter; it is the way we think and talk about the actions (or inactions) of others that helps us both understand history and make connections to the choices we all make in the present. In addition, it is important to remember that individuals and groups usually do not fit into only one category. Instead, they may move into and out of these roles throughout their lives.