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On 6th September the University of Bristol announced its decision that it will no longer be running compulsory consent classes for incoming students.

What remains in the way of education about consent can be found in the e-induction course that new students must complete, although the consent section can be skipped as ‘some people may find it challenging due to previous experiences.’ Consent will still be covered in the residence workshops provided for new students, although these are not mandatory. It is, therefore, possible for students to skip out education about sexual consent completely.

The induction defines consent as the following: ‘Sexual consent means a person willingly agrees to have sex or engage in a sexual activity – and they are free and able to make their own decision. Making sure you get and give consent before having any kind of sex with another person (or people) really matters. Sex without consent is rape or sexual assault.’

Definitions of consent do differ, the Planned Parenthood definition, for example, is broader and, by contrast, the language is less legal. They state that consent should be ‘freely given … enthusiastic … specific … informed … [and] reversible’.

The induction goes on to explain laws surrounding consent, assault, and rape. Resources have been provided with the help of Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) and include a video that uses the analogy that consent is like making tea and a quiz at that aims to test students on what they have learnt.

Critics are concerned that the resources are both too obvious and also patronising, and will not teach the students the information that is crucial to their own and others’ safety.

Bristol University’s Intersectional Feminist Society have released a statement responding to the university’s decision, arguing that ‘stopping the workshop at a time when students continue to arrive at the University with scant education on these issues is not only concerning, it is reckless’.

They add that information provided in the e-induction is too ‘simplistic’ for the complexity of consent, but the main focus of their objections is how it completely fails to mention anything with regards to an LGBTQ+ angle, or how hate crimes are often linked to sexual violence.

A university spokesperson says-

‘The issue of consent is covered through our mandatory e-induction for all new students living in University accommodation. It’s also covered in our UniSmart presentations which are held for all students during Welcome Week.

‘This year, we’re introducing new workshops in student residences which cover a breadth of themes relevant to students who are starting University. These include: drugs and alcohol awareness, personal safety, community living and sources of support, as well as consent. The consent workshops have been developed in conjunction with Somerset & Avon Rape & Sexual Abuse Support over the last two years.

‘Residences workshops are not mandatory, but it is hoped that this new approach will increase the uptake from students.

‘We take the issue of consent very seriously and hope these interventions will set a positive tone and culture around sexual consent, and help students think about and make more informed choices in their relationships at a time when they are also having to deal with many of the other exciting opportunities and challenges associated with starting University.

‘Alongside Bristol SU we are also developing further initiatives for the coming year, to ensure that the issue of consent remains firmly on the agenda.’

What is your opinion of the university replacing consent classes with e-inductions? 

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