Are We Talking Enough About Consent?

Heather Reynolds wonders if the SU showing first years a video about consent is enough. Consent workshops are becoming a staple aspect of student orientation on campus, with major universities such as Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, and Oxford University in England making them a sizeable aspect of their orientation timetable. Trinity has faced such a high demand for these workshops that they have had to plan more for students who were unable to attend the previous batch. So why is it that while other colleges have such a high demand for consent workshops, UCD has cancelled theirs, opting instead to show a three-minute video during another aspect of their orientation programme?UCD students’ union cancelled their consent workshops in February 2017, citing a lack of interest and a marked under-attendance from students, however this has not been a deterent for other universities. Oxford continues to hold regular workshops throughout orientation, even though attendance can fall as low as three people per workshop. As well as this, Trinity has seen an uptick in attendance this year, with up to 93 people attending one of their workshops, even though they are about as mandatory as the scarf ceremony is in UCD. Considering that other universities hold these workshops regardless of attendance rates, and local universities are seeing an increased interest in these workshops, it seems odd that UCD has downsized their attempts to talk about consent on campus.That is not to say that UCD is doing nothing. The video shown at orientation, Tea and Consent by Blue Seat Studios, is a highly informative video with a clear message, despite its short run time. However, there are many topics that are discussed in larger workshops that this video does not address, such as consent within an established relationship, or how alcohol can impede decision-making. It also does not discuss other circumstances that can affect someone’s ability to consent, such as large age differences or power imbalances. These situations are too complex to discuss in a three minute long video, but they are necessary discussions to have, which is why larger workshops have been rolled out on so many campuses.
Other universities hold [consent] workshops regardless of attendance rates
These discussions are necessary for many reasons, and should be had in all learning environments from an early age, which, coincidentally, Blue Seat Studios also has a video for. According to a USI study carried out in 2013, almost 20% of Irish female students have had unwanted sexual experiences whilst in their current educational institution. This makes it particularly important we have this discussion within universities and their campuses. However, in university, where basically everything you do is optional to a certain degree, it can be near impossible to get students to attend them, with many believing they know it all already. This lack of interest and assumption of knowledge is what led to UCD cancelling their workshops.Trinity College increased their intake by giving each hall in their accommodation a set time to attend a workshop and by advertising the workshops heavily, using flyers to promote the classes, and timetables in each residence kitchen. They reached 200 students in the first day of workshops, in comparison to 400 over the full week last year. Workshop coordinators also linked an increase in public discussion to their increased attendance. In comparison to Trinity’s highly publicised classes, many in UCD were not aware of the classes’ existence until after they had ended.
Many in UCD were not aware of the classes’ existence until after they had ended
The SU’s main issue with continuation of the workshops, aside from an underwhelming turnout, was the financial cost. Consent workshops for the 15/16 and 16/17 academic year cost the SU €1,800, with no financial assistance from the university, despite said assistance being promised when the workshops were first introduced. However, the SU have not released their accounts to the public since 2014, so this figure is difficult to confirm, and is difficult to take seriously, considering recent events.Consent is a difficult discussion to have on campus, but it is an important one, and with more campuses every year joining the discussion, UCD’s choice to cancel their workshops is leaving its students behind the curve. DIT, WIT, Queens University Belfast and NUIG all expanded their consent workshops this year, leaving UCD as the only college to downsize their engagement with students on the issue of consent. This only further indicates that this decision is a firm step backwards.