UCC Feminist Society launch petition for mandatory consent classes

Students in University College Cork (UCC) have launched a petition to make consent classes mandatory for all incoming first year students.

Launched yesterday by UCC Feminist Society, the petition currently has over 700 signatures, surpassing the original aim of 500 set by the committee. If the mandatory consent classes are instated, UCC will become the third university to make consent classes mandatory, following Trinity and Queen’s University Belfast.

The group aims to work with the UCC Students’ Union (UCCSU) and the student experience office to implement the classes, which will be taught by “consent ambassadors”. The ambassadors will be students and staff trained by psychologists who have had experience in dealing with cases of sexual harassment and abuse. The campaign noted to Trinity News that the use of consent ambassadors will decrease the overall cost of running the courses.

TCDSU Welfare Officer Damien McClean spoke to Trinity News following the launch of the petition: “Institutions need to be taking consent seriously. It’s an issue relevant to students through Ireland and we need to support our students properly on what is consent, and what is not. Hopefully the development of our own classes and efforts on consent, and those in UCC, and efforts in other institutions will better the welfare of those who are most in need.”

Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) launched mandatory consent classes in 2016, with Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) following suit a year later. In a survey of Trinity students who attended the classes, over 87% believed that the workshops should take place “every orientation”. Over 90% of Trinity Hall tenants attended the classes and  87.4% of students who attended the consent workshops stated they “learned something useful” at the event.

In February 2017, University College Dublin (UCD) cancelled their consent classes due to a low turnout, after only 20 students attended the classes.

According to a survey carried out by the Irish Examiner in 2015, one in seven UCC students had been raped or experienced a sexual assault, with around one third of respondents saying that they had experienced “minor sexual assaults”. 82% of the 333 students surveyed said that they would not know how to report a case of sexual assault to university authorities.

Citing this report, the UCC Feminist Society said that “the importance of implementing consent classes here really cannot be overstated”. When speaking to Trinity News, a representative of the society commented on the next step for the campaign. “The next step for this to become mandatory is for the college to back us in our plans. We hope to have these classes be a mandatory part of orientation for incoming first years.”

A 2015 TCDSU survey found that 25% of females and 5% of males had faced unwanted sexual experiences. The Irish Times also reported that at least nine students had been harrassed in Trinity between 2012 and 2015 while 10 students in UCD attending disciplinary hearings between 2010 and 2014.

Seana Davis

Seana Davis is a fourth year Geology student and News Editor of Trinity News.