Toolkit for “active consent” workshops on campus launched

New figures released alongside the Active Consent Toolkit showed that 37% of female college students and 53% of male college students gave a “neutral” or “agree” response when asked whether asking for consent is awkward

The “Active Consent Toolkit: Developing a Consent Strategy for your Higher Education Institution”, was rolled out yesterday evening to 22 higher education institutions across the country, after being produced by National University of Ireland Galway’s (NUI Galway) Active Consent Programme.

The programme, which was launched by Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, “offers guidance” to higher education institutions in developing an Action Plan on consent, sexual violence and harassment, as well as addressing consent education through a sustainable and joined up strategy across each campus in the country.

The toolkit is being launched after the publication of NUI Galway’s and the Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) “Sexual Experiences Survey” last June, which showed that 44% of students experience some form of sexual misconduct while in college.

The toolkit will also provide resources and research from NUI Galway’s new online Active Consent Programme designed to meet the call for consent education for all students in 2020-2021.

New figures released alongside the Active Consent Toolkit showed that 37% of female college students and 53% of male college students gave a “neutral” or “agree” response when asked whether asking for consent is awkward, while 63% of female college students and 37% of male college students said they were “very likely” to say something to intervene if a friend was taking a drunk person back to their room at a party.

26% of female college students and 51% of male college students gave a “neutral” or “agree” response to the rape myth that, if a girl initiates kissing or hooking up, she should not be surprised if a guy assumes she wants to have sex.

This toolkit on which provides “practical resources, research, and strategy development” comes alonsgide institutions and colleges in the country being requested by Minister Harris to devise action plans to address consent, sexual violence and harassment in third level education, including making consent workshops, developed by NUI Galway, available to all students.

Stage One of this new programme, the Active Consent Online Workshop, will be rolled out to First Year students across 22 Irish Higher Education Institutions in autumn 2020.

Minister Simon Harris, said: “The Sexual Experiences Survey clearly shows us there is so much work to be done. We have to do more to raise awareness and support students, and the Active Consent Toolkit will greatly assist institutions in a really practical way.”

“I want to see all of our higher education institutions further embed the Consent Framework into their policies and procedures so as to ensure a deep and lasting impact,” Harris continued. “All institutions have now been asked to develop and publish, by February next, specific institutional action plans on tackling sexual violence and harassment and provide an annual report on their progress in implementing the Framework.”

Harris added: “I believe the higher education sector to take on a leadership role in our societal response to sexual violence and harassment, and these are important steps forward to advance that aim.”

President of NUI Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, commended Minister Harris, stating: “I’d like to thank Minister Harris for attending today’s virtual launch of this very important Toolkit and welcome his prioritisation of this critical issue by making consent workshops mandatory and available to all students.”

“I would also like to congratulate the Active* Consent team at NUI Galway for the excellent work and leadership they have shown throughout the ongoing development of this programme and the workshops that have been openly shared and sustainably scaled up to the 22 Higher Education Institutions to date,” he added. 

Ó hÓgartaigh continued: “Respect for our students and staff is one of our University’s core values which we take very seriously. Education and support around the subject of consent for our student community is a critical learning component that should be made available to everyone during their university journey.” 

Due to Covid-19, the Toolkit features a three-stage Higher Education Institution consent education programme” for the upcoming academic year, that can be delivered fully online.

According to the press release, the toolkit makes “direct use” of the findings from the Active Consent/Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) “Sexual Experiences Survey” that we released in June of this year. 

As part of the toolkit, Active Consent is also launching an eLearning module, called “Sexual Violence and Harassment: How to Support Yourself and Your Peers”, which will be available for students from 15, October 2020.

This Active Consent eLearning module “helps to close gaps in students’ understanding of sexual violence and harassment” as reported in the ‘Sexual Experiences Survey’, including the legal definition of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, and how to access support services. 

Students will be “active participants” in the module, taking quizzes, polls, and activities to support learning about consent, sexual violence and harassment, and responding to case studies to find out how to support peers with “empathic communication” and by “taking action to intervene when they see something that is harmful”.

Dr Padraig MacNeela, Active Consent Programme Co-Lead, NUI Galway, said: “Our latest research shows that teenagers in schools and young adults in colleges strongly support the idea that consent means having the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and having their partners hear and respect these preferences.” 

“But the research also shows that the confidence to act on this understanding can be undermined by embarrassment and shame, including misperceptions of what your peers actually think,” he explained. “There is also now evidence to show that a number of young people either agree with or do not actively reject misinformed and potentially harmful rape myths.”

MacNeela continued: “Schools and colleges are important settings for education on positive, active consent that in turn works against tolerance of sexual violence and harassment.”

He explained: “The Consent Framework for colleges is one of the best strategies available internationally for enabling the Higher Education sector to seize the opportunity to achieve this potential – and in providing support for colleges to meet the challenges faced while developing the capacity to do so.”

“By providing supports like the Consent Toolkit, we are asking our colleges to embrace change on all levels, to work together to meet the needs of those affected by sexual violence and harassment, and to promote a culture of positive, active consent consistent with healthy development,” he concluded.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.