The Joint Committee on Education and Skills today examined sexual consent classes in Irish universities, with both Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President Shane De Rís, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President Síona Cahill speaking to the committee.
De Rís explained the structure of the consent workshops in Trinity to the committee, emphasising that they are focused more on developing students’ understanding of consent rather than simply telling them what it is.
Committee Chair Fiona O’Loughlin outlined that the committee is seeking “a better understanding of how the principles guiding sexual consent are taught to young adults in our universities”.
“It is encouraging to see student groups taking a lead in this area. We hope to identify best practices and current approaches that require improvement,” said O’Loughlin.
The committee is looking to understand whether third level is the “right time to introduce classes on teaching sexual consent or whether this needs to happen more at secondary level”, according to O’Loughlin.. She noted that “members also want to know more about how third-level institutions determine what should be taught and by whom”.
On whether consent classes should be introduced in second-level, Cahill stated that “the first time [students] hear about condoms should not be at SHAG [Student Health Awareness and Guidance] week that USI runs”.
“All members agree on the need to increase understanding of what consent means and to use the power of education to equip students with the necessary skills to communicate effectively, develop respect for each other and minimise the risk of inappropriate sexual behaviour”, said O’Loughlin.
Consent workshops were first introduced in Trinity for first years in Trinity Hall in 2016, taking place annually during Freshers Week since then.
The meeting comes after reports of nation-wide increases in consent class take-ups. The University of Limerick (UL) has seen a 615% increase in the number of students attending consent classes this year as compared to last, while Dublin City University (DCU) has seen an 123% increase. The National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG), introduced consent classes for the first time this year in Corrib Village, the University’s first-year accommodation.
However, reports of sexual assaults on students have also risen as the academic year began, with rape crisis centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway noting a rise in reports of rape and assault from students in September and October.