While serving as the Vice President Women at the Oxford University Student Union, I took a fledgling sexual consent workshop my predecessor created and piloted to men from the Oxford rugby and rowing teams.
I learned a vast amount from that session and took to restructuring and rewriting the program. What I developed was a peer facilitated, small group discussion on sexual consent. The groups would explore three case studies, tailored to the groups’ demographics and discuss where consent was or was not in the scenarios. The case studies also allowed room for cultural taboos and social assumptions to be challenged and dispelled.
The idea was to not lecture or tell people they are rapists, but to have a conversation. A conversation about what consent looks like in different scenarios and with different people, to start thinking and talking about consent so that it becomes the norm to seek consent.
In the beginning, a few colleges and a few common rooms ran them. Some colleges made it mandatory, many did not. I advocated tirelessly with colleges and even some departments to hold discussions group. As my year in office came to a close, more colleges were on board and planned to hold the session in Freshers Week for the next academic term.
By the time I left my post, I had updated the curriculum three times. Each revision cleaned up the program and added valuable knowledge to how to run the program. Over the next few years, the Vice President Women crafted sessions for the LGBTQ community and persuaded all colleges to hold sessions.
Early in 2013, OUSU’s Sexual Consent Workshops were shortlisted for the Brook and FPA, two leading sexual health non-profits in the United Kingdom, UK Sexual Health Awards for the Adult Sexual Health Program. The competition was stiff – the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) partnering with a sex trafficking non-profit and a sexual health non-profit. It was an honor to be shortlisted for this award and have national recognition for the work OUSU was doing.
By 2016, the University picked up the mantle of the United Nations Women HeForShe University initiative and made the consent sessions mandatory. This has been met with pushback, but has had a positive effect with long lasting benefits and setting the University up to be a leader in violence prevention.
These statements are from the United Nations Women, HeForShe Impact 10x10x10 2016 Parity Report:
IMPACT in Action: The University of Oxford
Engage the whole community—from app developers to sports teams—to holistically address campus
violence and enforce zero tolerance. The University of Oxford will work closely with a range of groups to develop a comprehensive response that aims to provide education, prevent violence, and enhance support for victims. In partnership with Oxford University Student Union (OUSU), The University of Oxford will expand Sexual Consent Workshops to reach all students, making them a compulsory part of undergraduate orientation, and available to all graduate students…. 33
…In an effort to shift the dialogue and patterned behavior of gender-based violence on university campuses, Oxford has adopted a multi-faceted approach that strengthens incident prevention and response while more broadly impacting culture by challenging gendered social norms and historically entrenched male advantage. The university committed to collaborate across a range of groups to proactively educate, prevent violence, and enhance support for survivors. To this end, all undergraduate colleges offered mandatory sexual consent workshops during Freshers Week, and they were available to all graduate students….” 70
Other articles about the program and its effects through the years:
10/28/14 – The Guardian
06/18/15 – Oxford University News & Events
09/20/16 – Fortune