October 30, 2017
Leslie Claire Amminson
From the 20 to 21 of October, the first Consent Culture Forum in the province took place at MUN’s St. John’s Campus. The goal was to educate students about the importance of discussing consent as well as to make that discussion inclusive for all marginalized groups and genders. The forum, which spanned two days and included a wide range of workshops, panels and presentations, was attended by over 70 students from across the province, and the panelists and presenters were mostly students and activists from across Newfoundland and Labrador.
“[Sexual] Violence is so pervasive and resources for survivors are so scarce, so it’s just very empowering to see people from the community taking a stand against this and trying to make a change” said Sophia Descalzi, chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students in Newfoundland and Labrador.
During her opening remarks, Descalzi noted: “It’s inspiring to see so many people across the province ready to tackle and end sexual violence on campus”.
When asked why it was important to attend the event, Shelby Thomas, a student who traveled from MUN’s Grenfell campus to participate, cited the importance of discussing and understanding consent in a University setting. “As an executive member on the GCSU, it was very important to me to attend this forum so that I could bring back whatever I learned to my campus and educate students, staff and faculty on the importance of consent in all aspects of one’s life” she stated.
The event aimed to create a safe and respectful environment for its participants. “I hope that we are able to engage in critical conversations while at the same time taking care of ourselves and each other”, said Descalzi. The coordinators appeared to succeed greatly in this respect.
“Organizers did an incredible job making participants throughout the forum feel comfortable, and most importantly safe. There were a number of councillors from different organizations on hand, decompression areas as well as content warnings prior to presentations. The organizers overall created a non-judgemental atmosphere through their candour and respect for individual voices and needs” said Julia Keeping, a student at MUN’s St. John’s Campus.
Though it would appear that the conversation around consent is growing and strengthening, Keeping added that there is still room for improvement. “Consent education needs to be taught much younger than it currently is” she stated. “Many of the participants’ first introduction to the concept of consent didn’t occur until their first years of university. This is problematic because by this age we have already been steeped in non-consensual behaviours that will take more time to unlearn”.