Yes, university students still need to learn about consent

According to a March article of The Toronto Star, “one in five women attending a North American university or college is sexually assaulted.” This statistic is widely known, about the ongoing problem that is not — by any means — a new topic. Politicians, media, and even college and university administrations are finally taking notice of the rape culture on campus. I recently went to the Ontario Universities Taking Action Against Sexual Violence at Queen’s University, which brought together university administrators, researchers, campus and community service providers, policymakers, and student advocates. Speakers and panels discussed topics from intersectional* preventions for sexual violence to institutional models of prevention.

One panel’s discussion included student-led coalitions on campuses and the main topic that these groups discussed was consent education on campus, or lack thereof. This is something I have thought about a lot, as I wrote in my last article for The Brock Press, and I came to realize that students, not just from Brock, still think that consent is some complicated phenomenon that has multiple choices. Well, I’m here to tell you that there’s actually only two options! Consent is the given permission from an individual, agreeing for something to happen or to do something. Therefore, yes or no are the only appropriate answers.

In university, it is the social norm to go out and get drunk, and there is a preconception of ‘easy’ hookups or casual sex, in other words, party culture. First year students arrive on campus during the most nerve racking, busy, and sleep-deprived week of their lives and then they’re told about consent. Why is this? From a young age, casual sex becomes an ‘accomplishment’ or ‘goal’ for guys, while girls are scolded for doing the same things. This leads to two things: sex becomes a mission for guys that they are expected to succeed at and women become silent about their sex lives.

Students protesting sexual harassment on campus / Brockpress.com

Students protesting sexual harassment on campus / Brockpress.com

The presence of alcohol and drugs in our current party culture plays a huge part in the absence of a consent culture. It also contributes to our victim-blaming culture where survivors of sexual violence are blamed for their assault if they’ve been drinking. If you’ve been drinking with someone and they are clearly showing signs of intoxication or are unconscious, they cannot give their full consent to sexual activity, therefore it is rape.

There is a huge sense of entitlement that is weakening the consent culture on campuses. I know many people have either experienced or heard of a few horror Tinder/Grindr stories that when you meet up with a match, they dive right into “Netflix and chill.” Many Tinder/Grindr users believe that swiping right means, “getting laid”. There has been a new construct created for Tinder/Grindr by its user that it is now a sex application. Tinder’s mission statement does say, “We build products that bring people together,” but it does not say “give consent to sexual activity by swiping right.” Along with this, if you buy someone a drink at the club, that is not consent. If they go on a date with you, that is not consent. Contrary to the cultural bias, both men and women have equal responsibility to make the choice to any kind of sexual activity, and it must be ensured that there is sober and conscious  agreement from both parties.

We live in a culture where, sadly, young men are pressured to keep track of their “kill count” and young women are expected to follow along. This is not meant to be anti-men, but more pro-consent education for both women and men.

Consent is awesome. It shows that you truly respect the individual, and what’s better than that? Many men have been accustomed to this cloudy definition of consent and this doesn’t mean they should be shut out of discussions about consent, but rather they should be educated about it. Women should be empowered to voice their consent out loud to a sexual partner. For anyone that may have felt uncomfortable in a sexual encounter at a club, on a date, or during a Tinder/Grindr conversation: you don’t owe anyone anything.

*Intersectional: a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.

- Maddi Fuller

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