Olivia Cooke responds to the University’s decision to scrap consent classes for incoming students.
As recently reported by Epigram, last week the University of Bristol announced its decision to scrap compulsory consent classes for new undergraduate students, replacing them with an online e-induction consent course. Predictably, this move has caused uproar amongst much of the student community, sparking fierce debate abound the university’s commitment to promoting the importance of sexual consent.
Whilst the university has defended its decision to take consent classes online, insisting that its new compulsory e-learning course will ‘help students think about and make more informed choices in their relationships’, many students have begun to question whether the university is placing financial concerns above the mental and physical health of its student population.
In a committee statement released by Bristol University’s Intersectional Feminist Society, the Society have argued that ‘e-learning is too simplistic for a complex issue like consent.’ Furthermore, the Society have criticised the University’s apparent inability to ‘broaden conversations about sexual violence.’ iFemSoc have called for a discussion focussing on ‘the intersection of hate crimes and sexual violence’ within University-led consent workshops, in addition to developing a ‘holistic consent education’ which does not ‘exclude[s] the narratives of marginalised groups’ such as the LGBTQ+ community.
— Bristol Uni iFemSoc (@BristoliFemSoc) 6 September 2017
With a new cohort of students eager to embark on one of the most exciting chapters of their lives, is the University able to ensure that it has provided sufficient measures to enhance the protection of these students from sexual assault as they experience studying and living in Bristol for the first time?
Recent reports into sexual assault at university, have indicated that this issue is still depressingly widespread. A poll taken by the National Union of Students in 2015, revealed that one in five students across the UK experience a form of sexual harassment in their first week of term. And a study by the Telegraph in that same year, also found that a third of female students experience inappropriate touching whilst at university.
To combat this malignant trend within campus, the University of Cambridge recently advertised a position as a sexual assault and harassment adviser within their counselling service. With a goal to ‘improve the prevention, response, support and investigation’ of instances of ‘sexual misconduct’, the adviser will work within the University’s colleges providing ‘specialist support to students.’ In 2016, Oxford University started compulsory sexual consent workshops, covering both the legalities of sexual consent and providing sex education to students.
The actions taken by Oxbridge to combat sexual assault on campus, are undoubtedly leading the way in which academic institutions approach the issue of consent amongst their students. The question is whether the University will follow suit and revise their current infrastructures in educating students about consent and sexual assault.
Former Online Editor of Epigram Hannah Price, led the ground-breaking #RevoltAgainstSexualAssault campaign last year. Price’s Snapchat-fronted campaign exposed a dark underbelly to student life at Bristol, with students sharing sobering accounts of sexual abuse, harassment, and sexism. This campaign crucially raised the profile of sexual assault at the University, yet the University’s recent decision to cut their provision of consent workshops is arguably a step backwards in combatting sexual abuse on campus.
Time will tell whether or not the University’s updated programme for freshers will help to clarify issues surrounding consent. Yet, one would hope that this additional cut does not threaten the safety of students in the near future.
What do you think about the University’s decision? Let us know your thoughts.