Oberlin Blogs

Let's Make Consent a Conversation!

March 17, 2018

Content warning: This piece discusses my work as a student trainer with PRSM (Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct). I refer to sexualized violence generally, but do not describe specific experiences or go into any detail.

April is one of the best and busiest months of the year at Oberlin. Every student organization tends to put on its most exciting event, leaving everyone with serious FOMO when trying to figure out what to do on a Saturday night. Drag Ball, the WOBC Cover Band Showcase, OSLAM’s CUPSI poetry showcase… the list goes on and on. But this year, April is especially exciting for a new reason: IT’S CONSENT MONTH!

As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, I spend a lot of time thinking about consent through my job as a peer educator with PRSM (Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct) – a Title IX program – and an office assistant with the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). I’m one of about fifteen students that teach first-years about consent and bystander intervention in mandatory trainings each semester. In addition to facilitating workshops for first-years, PRSM trainers create curriculum for new trainings about relationships, support skills, safe party-planning, and more. Though many Oberlin students do speak openly about consent and prioritize it in their relationships, we can always work harder to be a safe community. PRSM works to encourage a campus culture in which all people look out for one another and treat others with respect. Working for PRSM has been one of the most rewarding endeavors of my life – the conversations we lead literally make people feel safer on campus and in the world. I feel so lucky to get paid for this work, since I would definitely do this job for free!

PRSM and the Office of EDI have put on some fabulous events this year, most notably a talk by Peggy Orenstein, a 1983 Oberlin alum who recently wrote the awesome book, Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. We’ve also had a very successful awareness campaign around the slogan, “Let’s Make Consent a Conversation.” If you’re on campus, keep an eye out for teal stickers, buttons, and posters with that slogan and more information about how to practice clear consent.

Let's Make Consent A Conversation logo

For April, we’re expanding our awareness campaign into a whole month of events and discussions about preventing sexualized violence at Oberlin College. PRSM trainers will be holding office hours for students to ask us questions, handing out new “Let’s Make Consent a Conversation” swag on Friday afternoons in Wilder Bowl, and bringing a few speakers to discuss various aspects of consent. And did I mention we’ll be running several new workshops? Students, faculty, and staff will have the opportunity to learn more about bystander intervention, healthy relationships, support skills, and more. I’m really, really excited for Consent Month!!

In honor of Consent Month, I thought I’d give my readers a quick lesson on Oberlin College’s definition of consent. In order for consent to be present, four elements must be present.

  1. Informed – All parties must be aware of what is going to happen in terms of safer sex practices and specific sex acts.
  2. Freely and actively given – Consent is given without the threat of consequences or other types of coercion.
  3. Specific to a given situation – Consenting to something in the past doesn't mean that someone consents to it all the time! Consenting to one sex act does not mean consenting to all sex acts! Consent cannot be assumed in long-term relationships and must be given in each interaction.
  4. Mutually understandable – Consent is clear and unambiguous, and all parties understand each other without confusion or uncertainty.

I encourage you all to think about how you use consent in your daily lives. Consent isn’t just sexual. We navigate consent all the time, like when we ask a friend if it's okay to take a photo of them or give them a hug. Keep an eye out for Consent Month events happening in April, but remember that talking about consent shouldn't stop at the end of that month. Let's all commit to encouraging a culture of respect and kindness at Oberlin and beyond!!

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