Why are students in St Andrews not interested in consent workshops?

They’re free and everything

Consent. You’ve probably seen this word an awful lot lately – it’s a word that has been floating around in the collective conscience for a while, but has only really gained some gravity in more recent months.

In light of Trump’s election, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the subsequent #MeToo campaign, the matter of consent has garnered media attention and featured numerous times in related articles and investigations.

With the limelight centred on this issue, some of us, probably naively, might have believed that the problems surrounding sexual consent were finally being acknowledged and could even potentially be eradicated in the near future. This is particularly poignant hope for us students, given the statistics surrounding campus sexual assault and the stigma attached to reporting that could be all the more potent in a town as small as ours.

Happily, the University of St Andrews adopts a no toleration policy towards sexual assault and harassment, to the degree that we have projects dedicated to raising awareness of sexual consent, namely GotConsent and the efforts of Saints LGBTQ+.

This extends to workshops which run throughout the year for students to learn more about the various grey areas littering the world of sexual interactions – but these resources are not being used to their full extent.

Workshops run by GotConsent here in St Andrews feature throughout the academic year, most notably at the beginning of each semester in the halls of residence, where all residents are required to attend.

Or so we are told.

I discovered only recently that these hall talks rely on the discretion of the hall wardens and that my own hall’s dedication to the cause was exemplary, rather than the norm.

Of course, the onus for this can't entirely be placed on the wardens – while for the smaller halls (such as Regs, McIntosh and John Burnett) a mandatory consent talk for residents seems like a no brainer, for those people in the larger halls, too often the logistical difficulties of a hall-wide talk overshadow the benefits.

Chatting to GotConsent coordinator Heather Farley, I found that in ABH this year, 5 of the 500 residents turned up to their GotConsent workshop (that’s a puny 1% attendance rate) and the majority of DRA residents weren’t even aware that there was a workshop to attend.

So, logistics are a problem – but one that can be remedied. Obviously the residents of ABH can’t be expected to all cram in around the common room pool table – so hire a bigger venue. The sports centre, 601 or even Younger Hall. As for DRA, workshops held on a building by building basis seem a very viable option.

With attendance issues resolved, we can work on the other shortfalls of consent awareness – namely, participation. The mandatory hall talks are frequented by a varied group of students; however, at each voluntary consent talk I have attended, participants have been invariably female.

Also, the current GotConsent team features only one male volunteer – while this may be changing due to new recruitments and perhaps even just a shift in society’s attitude, the lack of male participation is concerning at best.

We need not only more student participation, but a body of participating students whose own diversity reflects the variety of relationships and experiences out there – all of which deserve to be healthy, safe and consensual.

Because this is not a 'women’s issue'. This is an everyone’s issue and one which needs to be addressed.

Perhaps all of this wouldn’t be so pressing were it guaranteed that all arriving students had already received consent education at some point, rendering these workshops merely a refresher course.

But if, like me, you didn’t even receive sex education in school, never mind consent education, then these workshops are your first introduction to one of the most important aspects of healthy relationships. It’s an introduction that we as a community can’t afford for you to miss.

This is not an easy problem to fix. One small step we can all take is to encourage more student engagement, more organisation and more care for the cause. Living in the Bubble, we are all going to be sharing the same spaces for at least 4 years of our lives – attending at least one consent workshop can help make the Bubble a safer and better place for us all to exist.

Cover Image: Amir Emami