As an international student coming from America, I was unsure of what to expect as I started my new job as Consent Campaign Facilitator at the Students’ Union. The recent Brock Turner case spurred a new round of debates surrounding consent, once again highlighting how rampant issues of sexual assault are on American University campuses. When working on sexual education at my school in the US, I was often met with an indifference that shocked me. As I traveled to Sussex, I wondered how students would engage with I Heart Consent. Would they respond positively to what we had to say? Would they take the workshops seriously?
It was during Freshers’ Fair while running our I Heart Consent Booth that I first witnessed the overwhelmingly positive response from students. I was floored by how many women and men came up to us, eager to tell us about their own experiences and struggles. In these conversations, it was so clear that people knew there was a problem, but didn’t exactly know how to challenge the problematic norms that are linked to lack of consent and rape culture.
Last year, after Safer Sussex and other students expressed the need to prioritise the safety of all students through greater education and programming on consent, the University allocated more resources towards the campaign, hiring two Students Union staff to focus specifically on I Heart Consent. In the first few weeks, we trained student leaders, recruited a large group of volunteers, and created a new I Heart Consent Reward Leaf for sports and societies. Now, groups that hold workshops and volunteer with the campaign are rewarded!
We just released a Nighttime Economy Report, which found that 52% of students see levels of sexual harassment in local nightlife to be fairly to very high. In light of this glaring issue we created a new Nighttime Safety Charter that will hold nighttime venues to a higher standard, ensuring that staff are trained to deal with instances of sexual harassment and assault. In partnership with Good Night Out Brighton, we are training student volunteers this month to go out to these venues and run trainings for bar staff. Creating stronger links between clubs, bars, and the Student Union will give us a better understanding of how to tackle these unsafe practices head on, and could lead to further community collaboration.
Consent is not just a women’s issue. It’s an everyone issue, and should be treated as such. That is why one of our biggest goals this year is to include more students who don’t identify as women into discussions of sexual empowerment and consent. It is our priority to engage with student groups that are often overlooked by both the Student Union and University. We have a great group of volunteers, including men from diverse backgrounds, that will run their own I Heart Consent workshops. I hope that you will engage with this Campaign in your own way-whether attending a workshop, marching in the Reclaim Brighton event on November 25th, or just speaking up when you see something that furthers problematic ideas of sexuality and consent.
This was a guest post by the Sussex Student Union’s Consent Coordinator, Sarah Houston.