Tackling sexual consent on campus

Sexual Health Week and other programs hope to create a culture of consent on campus

Students Kaitlin Clement, Amy Gorman and Danya Thompson and sex and communication workshop facilitators Corey Keith and Jessy Dame get comfortable with sex terms during the “sex-ball game.” (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

Students Kaitlin Clement, Amy Gorman and Danya Thompson and sex and communication workshop facilitators Corey Keith and Jessy Dame get comfortable with sex terms during the “sex-ball game.” (Alexis Stockford/The Omega)

Sexual consent was a hot topic on campus last week.

For the fifth year in a row, the TRU Wellness Centre’s Sexual Health Week was focused on consent. This year, the week included a workshop on sex and communication in relationships as well as an information booth in Old Main. Information provided was partly based on “Don’t Be That Guy,” a campaign focusing on the need to be sober if consenting to sex.

“If someone’s drunk, they can’t consent to sex,” TRU Wellness Centre co-ordinator Chelsea Corsi said. “If someone is passed out they can’t consent to sex. If they say no…it’s just really getting that message across.”

According to Corsi, the Wellness Centre has used the “Don’t Be that Guy” campaign for about four years.

“Change always starts with a conversation,” she said. “You always have to openly talk about things and I think what I’d like to do here is to get people talking.”

The discourse on university rape culture has exploded in the last few years, putting pressure on Canadian universities to develop better ways to deal with sexual assault.

Both UBC’s Sauder School of Business and Saint Mary’s University came under fire last year after students were recorded participating in chants that advocated underage and non-consensual sex.

Following a scandal last November in which three McGill University football players were charged with sexually assaulting a student from Concordia University but were not removed from the team, McGill hired a harm reduction liaison, partly to develop a sexual assault policy for the university. Other universities, such as the University of Guelph, already have a sexual assault policy in place or have developed alternative methods to combat sexual assault.

TRU does not have a specific sexual assault policy but dean of students Christine Adam said there is a structure in place for any instances of sexual assault.

“We have supports available on campus where students can come to us for various reasons, as they would come to us about any concern related to another student or something that happened to them on campus,” Adam said. “We’ve really focused our educational efforts on consent.”

TRU offers free and confidential counselling to victims of sexual assault and has co-operated with organizations like the Kamloops Sexual Assault Centre and the RCMP.

“I think, honestly, we have a very strong Student Services area…I think we do a good job at this point and we are being proactive,” Corsi said.

In the past four years, there have been two instances of sexual assault reported on the TRU campus.

“In both cases our response has been to connect students up with RCMP and other resources as quickly as possible,” Adam said.

Adam said that she has not heard a lot about rape culture in how TRU has been characterized. She said that other universities where rape culture may be more prevalent are also more residential and may have a more active bar scene than TRU.

She acknowledged, however, that the Campus Master Plan hopes to eventually develop TRU into that kind of residential campus.

“We have to always be paying attention to our students’ safety and wellbeing and identifying those positive aspects of culture, things that we’ve been doing like the consent education, the work on harm reduction, that’s a really key aspect what goes on in our Wellness Centre and in counselling,” she said.

Aside from Sexual Health Week, TRU Student Services has teamed up with TRU Residence to create “Party with Class,” an awareness program focused on safe party practices. The TRU Wellness Centre also hopes to bring the “Don’t be a Bystander” program to TRU next semester. The program informs students how to spot a potential sexual assault and how to intervene.

A task force on alcohol and other substances has also been formed to compare TRU’s substance policies with policies across the nation. The task force will present its findings by the end of February.