February 13, 2011

Celebrating Valentine’s Day, Students Advocate for Consent and Sexual Safety on Campus

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Consent-Ed, a student group that raises awareness about sexual assault prevention, hosted an event to bring together advocates and allies of women’s issues on Friday.

“Why is consent important?” read a large notepad at the “Love and Consent: Connecting Allies and Advocates” event Friday, hosted by Consent-Ed, a student group that raises awareness about sexual assault on campus. Participants responded with answers like “Because consent is sexy!” and “Trust and intimacy are important.”

Consent-Ed gives presentations about consent, sexual assault and how to be an active bystander to prevent dangerous situations. Emma Schain ’11, the president of Consent-Ed, explained the significance of scheduling the event so close to Valentine’s Day.

“We want to promote the good aspects of relationships, which are grounded in ideas of love and mutual respect — which are also at the core of Valentine’s Day,” Schain said. “Sexual consent and prevention of sexual assault are founded in communicative and healthy relationships.”

In addition to the symbolism of the romantic holiday, Consent-Ed planned “Love & Consent” to raise awareness about its mission and to bring together students, faculty and administrators who are concerned about the climate of sexual safety at the University.

“There are a lot of people who are fighting to end violence against women and to reassess the culture on this campus, but they are doing so from different vantage points and spheres,” Schain said. “We are trying to get these people together, to make connections in the same room and to find each other as allies.”

During the event, members of the organization encouraged participants to talk about sexual assault issues on campus and ways to address them. Consent-Ed provided notepads for participants to record their definitions of consent. They also offered information on the University’s policy toward sexual assault, information about Consent-Ed’s initiatives and an opportunity to win a prize if participants guessed the correct number of condoms in a bowl.

“The event was a meet and greet, so the facilitators addressed the questions being asked of them and handled all sensitive topics well,” said Mark Collins ’11, a member of the Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board. “I did not feel that this event was at all biased and [I] see it as a crucial step toward educating all Cornellians about the importance of consent, respect and general sexual wellness.”

Schain said she was pleased with the various groups represented at the event, which included the Women’s Resource Center — for which Schain is an advisory board member — Black Women’s Support Network, the Student Assembly, Panhellenic executive board and men and women from Greek chapters.

“The best thing about the event was that there were men, women, black students, Latino students and students from the LGBT Resource Center present,” Eva Drago ’12, a member of the Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board, said. “It was just a great representation of people and really encouraging.”

Schain said peer-to-peer communication is crucial to Consent-Ed’s mission. Jessica Biedelman ’12, another member of Consent-Ed, elaborated on the workshops Consent-Ed offers. The organization puts on 40-minute to a hour-long presentations — often to sorority and fraternity groups — intended to empower students to stand up against sexual assault.

“We aim to provide women with our definitions of consent and the bystander intervention, while still engaging participants in thought-provoking and difficult topics, such as the idea that when drunk, you cannot legally give consent for sex,” Biedelman said. “It is definitely a gray and unexplored idea that drunk sex is risky sex, so we feel it is important to get women thinking and talking about these issues.”

Looking to the future, Schain expressed concern for the sustainability of Consent-Ed.

“Consent Ed is only as reliable as its student makeup, and I am a senior and about to graduate. The rape culture that exists around this country is going to exist regardless of the student make-up at Cornell,” she said. “There needs to be more done administratively and in the permanent aspects of Cornell.”

While the University has a standard policy toward sexual assault — it aims to prevent it through education awareness — “there is a disconnect between the policy and the actual culture, as there usually is with policy,” according to Schain. Schain said that Consent-Ed would like to see its presentations institutionalized.

Although she said it might sound “radical,” Schain would like to see a member of the administration devoted specifically to preventing sexual assault on campus.

“There needs to be more manpower for this issue,” Schain said.

Original Author: Elaine Lin