Monday 24 October 2016

Five things to expect from college consent workshops

Daire Courtney

Published 08/09/2016 | 18:31

Aoibhinn Loughlin. Picture: TCDSU
Aoibhinn Loughlin. Picture: TCDSU

The Students' Unions of Trinity and UCD caused quite a stir when they announced plans to introduce consent workshops for incoming first-year students. But now that the year is starting, what can students expect from a consent workshop?

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1) They're not mandatory and not everyone will get them

Students won't be punished for choosing not to attend the workshops, though SUs will be strongly encouraging as many people as possible to go. Neither SU has the funding to offer workshops to everyone, so UCD students will be asked to sign up and Trinity's workshops will just be for students living in Halls.

2) They're not about telling students not to commit assault

Both UCDSU and TCDSU stressed that the workshops are about discussing consent, not sitting students down and telling them not to commit assault or rape. Aoibhinn Loughlin, TCDSU welfare officer, said: "We have good faith in students to know the law, but there are a lot of grey areas that people don't think about, so we want to promote empowering students to say what's comfortable for them and see the verbal and non-verbal cues for positive consent."

3) They include LGBT issues and different kinds of relationships

These workshops make sure to include discussions of scenarios that include LGBT relationships. Aoibhinn also stressed that the workshops won't just focus on men having to make sure their partners are consenting and that positive consent should be a concern for everyone regardless of gender or sexuality.

4) They focus on discussion rather than instruction

People will be allowed to participate as much or as little as they want, but everyone will be encouraged to. The workshops won't be a list of instructions and the people conducting them are treated as facilitators rather than teachers.

5) There normally won't be a right or wrong answer

Beyond 'yes means yes and no means no,' the facilitators won't be able to give cut-and-dry answers for whether a cue means someone is consenting. The emphasis is on understanding that some cues might mean different things to different people, and advising students to be comfortable talking about it to deal with grey areas and know what their partner wants.

An online survey conducted in Trinity in 2015 found that 1 in 4 female students had been subjected to an unwanted sexual experience; student unions are hoping that workshops will decrease this by increasing understanding and normalising discussions of consent so that sexual partners can have those discussions with each other.

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