Analysis: Consent education in college

Jack Ryan, News Analysis Editor, looks at consent education in Irish universities

Depending on who you ask, you may well receive a different answer on what it means to give or receive consent. “It’s simple”, someone might say, “No means No and Yes means Yes”. But in an environment where 32% of Irish students reported they would find it difficult to tell their partner they did not want to have sex and 1 in 4 female students have experienced unwanted sexual contact, or attepted unwanted sexual contact, through the use or threat of violence, according to a survey from the National University of Ireland, Galway, it’s clear that we still have a distance to go in order to address deficits in understandings of consent and confident sexual communication, particularly between students.

Over the past three years, there have been a number of pushes within Trinity to increase understanding of consent, following successful initiatives being taken by other universities worldwide, such as the University of Edinburgh’s “No Excuse” campaign.

In September 2016, following a mandate passed the previous year, Trinity held its first consent workshop for 400 incoming first year students in Halls. Following the success of this measure Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) announced they would make the workshops available for all students the following year.

At the start of the new college year in 2017, attendance at the workshops in Halls doubled to over 90% of students, forcing organisers to call in extra facilitators to deal with the high demand.

In May 2018, College agreed to fully fund the €15,000 cost of the workshops through the TCD Student Life Committee. The service would now make workshops available to societies and clubs, as well as all Trinity student accommodation.

TCDSU and the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) were both invited to the Oireachtais in October 2018, to outline sexual consent class models to the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. The Committee was investigating whether third level was the best stage at which to inform students on consent , or whether it could be introduced at second-level.

In March 2019, TCDSU voted to introduce an intern for sexual education and development, with funding from the Higher Education Authority. This would be a full-time member of staff who would deal with the running of consent initiatives in Trinity.

This academic year, workshops have been made more inclusive to cater to a group of students who have a diverse range of backgrounds, according to the new graduate intern on sexual education and development Rachel Skelly. Skelly says that they are reaching out to “students who otherwise might not feel as able to engage in the content as others by trying to make the scenarios that we are talking about relevant to them so they feel included in the discussion”.

While consent is a topic that may be fraught with opacity for some students, the hope and expectation is that once a significant proportion of the student population has undertaken one of these classes or workshops, the norms of consent will be mainstreamed.

See also: Rising number of students reporting sexual assaults to rape crisis centres