Third-level colleges, students and the State’s Higher Education Authority (HEA) have teamed up in a campaign to stamp out sexual violence and harassment on campuses, as the new academic year gets under way.
The #unmuteconsent campaign, now its second year, seeks to drive awareness and encourage conversations around consent and to mobilise students to speak out and to challenge and change behaviours.
Recent surveys have pointed to a problem around sexual consent and sexual violence within campus communities, and evidence indicates that the incidence is under-reported.
A HEA survey in 2021 found four-in-10 students agreed that sexual violence and sexual harassment were a problem at their college.
Consent is now part of the student induction process in higher education, while the #unmuteconsent.ie website will highlight supports, resources and training available in each college.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Beth O’Reilly said while consent awareness was increasing “we need to keep building on the work that has already been done”.
She called for zero-tolerance for sexual violence and harassment on all campuses, and among the student population, which, she said, involved empowering students to increase their knowledge of consent, to change behaviours as needed, to speak out about consent and to report experiences of sexual violence and harassment.
Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said that there was “a particular responsibility on those charged with educating the next generation in ensuring that their students and learners are equipped to lead the change more widely across society”.
Mr Harris said he was pleased that students and management in higher education colleges were working in tandem to create the necessary change.
Professor Colin Scott, chair of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) and vice president for the equality, diversity and inclusion group, said the findings of surveys in higher education in Ireland in 2020 and 2021 were comparable to findings in universities in Australia, the US and the UK.
“We know that a culture of speaking about consent can help transform how we as a society respond to unacceptable behaviour,” he said.
Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) CEO Dr Joseph Ryan said THEA colleges had done much to support open conversation about consent, and the campaign provided the opportunity “to continue this conversation, to normalise it, and to encourage campus communities actively to increase their knowledge about consent”.