Surge in college consent classes take-up

By Joyce Fegan

Attendances at sexual consent workshops at universities has “skyrocketed” this year following a number of high-profile cases.

In some colleges, the number of students signing up for the training courses has jumped 600%.

The Smart Consent workshop was created in 2015 by a team of researchers at NUI Galway’s School of Psychology, led by Siobhán O’Higgins and Pádraig MacNeela.

The first training was delivered in Trinity College Dublin in 2016 and more workshops were rolled out in 2017. This year has seen a massive jump in the number of students attending the courses.

In the University of Limerick, there has been a 615% increase in the number of people attending the workshop. Approximately 70 students took a consent training class in 2017; this year that has increased to more than 500.

These courses were led by the UL student union, collaborating with the various faculties in the universities, which allowed for the workshops to be delivered during tutorial times.

Student welfare officer Lorcan O’Donnell said another 400 students will receive training after Christmas.

In Dublin City University, which has seen the largest numbers of attendees, there has been a 123% increase compared with last year. In 2017, DCU had 253 people attend a workshop; last week, that number rose to 563.

A facilitator of one of the workshops in DCU said there was a high level of engagement, especially from young men.

“One guy said to me: ‘I’m going to go and tell my football team about this’,” said Caroline West, who helped deliver the trainings and is a PhD student at the university.

Other feedback she received was in relation to “grey areas” when alcohol comes into play, including the question of when someone stops being able to give consent?

Ms West, whose doctorate research is on pornography, said “no concerns around false allegations came up”.

Aisling Fagan, who is DCU’s vice-president for welfare and equality, worked with the university’s health centre to organise the workshops.

She told the Irish Examiner there was a “50/50” mix of genders in the workshops.

“It was really mixed,” said Ms Fagan. “There were definitely trainings where it was 50/50 guys and girls, and the guys were really engaged.

“We gave out evaluation forms at the end and almost all courses were represented, not just the humanities; we had students from engineering, sports science, across the board.

All the stuff that’s being reported in the media, while horrendous, I think it’s given people a wake-up call because engagement, in general, has skyrocketed.

“The feedback also showed that students found the workshops to be a welcoming, open environment and that they would go on and tell their friends.”

In NUI Galway, the training was delivered for the first time in Corrib Village, the accommodation centre for first-year students, and 400 people attended.

Mr MacNeela said Corrib Village had “never experience that level of engagement, on a voluntary level, on an issue before.”

Mr MacNeela, who developed the training and its accompanying manual, said the workshop consists of students walking through three different stories.

The scenarios involve non-verbal consent — such as whether a smile indicates consent — same-sex relationships, and women harassing men.

They work off the definition of consent as something that is “active, ongoing, and given freely and willing without any pressure”.

So far, Mr MacNeela’s team has trained 250 facilitators in institutions such as the National College of Art and Design, University College Cork, Ulster University, and Queens University.

In August, Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor called for sexual consent courses to be mandatory for students in all third-level colleges.

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