Consent workshops for freshmen at Concordia

Graphics by Alexa Hawksworth

For many freshmen, frosh is considered the ultimate social event to kick off university life. With everything from friends to beer to sex to textbooks on students’ minds, the question of consent often falls to the wayside.

“Frosh is here to make you feel like you’re included and accommodated for, but we’re also here to make sure that that happens in a really safe way,” ASFA president Julia Sutera Sardo told The Concordian.

As sexual assault is prevalent across university campuses, ASFA has made it clear to students that Concordia’s frosh events are no exception when it comes to prevention. For the past few years, ASFA has required mandatory consent training workshops for all students attending frosh events. Currently, ASFA and CASAJMSB are the only two Concordia student associations requiring these workshops.

“Sexual assault happens frequently at universities, and we have to be mindful of that,” Sutera Sardo said. “If [students] don’t do the training, they don’t come to frosh.”

According to Sutera Sardo, the consent workshops are organized primarily by the student associations and Terry Kyle, who is ASFA’s manager of student life. The training includes modules on harm reduction, consent, sexual assault, bystander intervention, gender and several other related issues.

Another Concordia organization that is heavily involved in sexual assault prevention on campus is the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC). According to coordinator Jennifer Drummond, SARC provides many services, such as delivering workshops and working with students to create campaigns on the topic of sexual violence prevention. The centre provides support services to survivors of sexual assault through one-on-one appointments, a drop-in centre and weekly group meetings. Drummond said SARC also works with the university to develop and implement policies on sexual violence prevention and response.

Drummond said she believes the implementation of mandatory consent training for students attending frosh has an impact on reducing the number of cases of sexual violence.

“I think the more people are knowledgeable about consent and how to have respectful relationships and communication, the better,” she said.

For students who might experience sexual violence at frosh, Drummond said there are many options.

“Those options can include calling the police, going to a designated centre or coming to SARC,” she said. “If someone witnesses something, I encourage people to intervene safely, when possible, and to check in with the person being targeted.”

Second-year Concordia students Erin Dunlop and Ben Fraser said they attended last year’s ASFA frosh and appreciated the mandatory consent training.

“You hear so many stories of sexual assaults happening at university events around the world. It was nice to see Concordia doing something about it,” Dunlop said. “Making it a mandatory prerequisite for attending the frosh events made me feel safer.”

Fraser said much of the training revolved around the presence of alcohol as a factor in sexual violence, as frosh events often entail a fair amount of heavy drinking.

“It was mostly focused on what to do in situations where consent is in a grey area,” he said. “People do stupid things at frosh.”

Dunlop agreed, saying she definitely sees the link between binge drinking and sexual assault.

“Predators prey on people who are vulnerable, and when there is alcohol involved, consent is compromised,” she said. “I was very lucky to have had a positive frosh experience, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone.”

While both of their frosh experiences involved being surrounded by binge drinking culture, Dunlop and Fraser said their frosh leaders were always checking in with them and making sure they were comfortable. They said they never felt forced to drink more than they wanted, and the leaders kept them out of trouble. However, Dunlop also noted there is always room for improvement in the trainings.

“Consent workshops are a good start, but there is always more that we can do,” she said. “There needs to be harsh penalties for people who commit sexual assault. It’s super important to focus on prevention, but we have to be careful to make sure the message is ‘don’t rape’ and not ‘don’t get raped.’”

While ASFA is constantly working to improve their workshops, Sutera Sardo said the most important thing Concordia can do right now is to implement university-wide consent trainings before frosh.

“I just hope that everyone is going to have mandatory consent training in the future,” Sutera Sardo said. “The more people get on board and talk about it, the better it is. Destigmatizing is what we should all be working on.”

Graphics by Alexa Hawksworth

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