Consent Is Sexy

A diverse collection of student groups joined together this past weekend to promote consent culture and create a safer party environment. Parties hosted at Olde Club, Paces and both fraternities all required students to show proof of attendance in the form of a sticker from a consent workshop in order to gain entrance.

The student groups involved, which included Deshi, Delta Upsilon, Phi Psi, Kappa Alpha Theta, the Party Associates (PAs), the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team (DART), the Sexual Misconduct Advisors and Resource Team (SMART), the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), the Student Budgeting Committee (SBC), the Sexual Health Counselors (SHCs), and the Swarthmore Queen Union (SQU), as well as Nora Kerrich ’16, who spearheaded the Consent is Sexy Weekend initiative, all saw the project as a success.

In the week leading up to the parties, over 250 students attended consent workshops, facilitated by Director of Worth Health Center Beth Kotarski and student members of the SMARTeam.

David Hill ’13, who leads the PA program, found the workshops valuable for many students. “I think they sparked a dialogue across campus, and they provided information to attendees that many had never learned, or had forgotten since freshman year,” Hill said. While freshmen attend sexual assault workshops facilitated by members of Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) during the orientation process, there is no similarly comprehensive program centered around consent during the remainder of a student’s time at Swarthmore.

Attendees often brought up the legality of consent while intoxicated, and Kerrich, who attended each of the workshops, said she was encouraged by the discussions that took place.  Legally, an intoxicated person cannot consent to sexual activity, and the workshop facilitators reminded students of this law and then discussed how to manage consent in situations involving intoxication.

Another positive result of the consent workshop for Kerrich were the discussions surrounding what many term “liquid courage,” or the inability to overcome fear or awkwardness without alcohol. “I heard students saying several times throughout the consent workshops that if you wouldn’t do it sober, you shouldn’t do it intoxicated,” Kerrich said. Students repeatedly voiced the belief that students should not approach others in a sexual way unless they were comfortable doing so while sober, which Kerrich believes is a critical insight for students to share with one another.

Some students noted that attendance at the parties seemed to be lower than usual, though Hill attributed this lack of attendance to students resting up for this weekend’s Genderfuck. Many students also left campus on Saturday to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Spring Fling. Since the consent workshops provided attendees with one sticker for themselves and two to share with friends, resulting in a distribution of 750 stickers, or roughly half the student body and far greater than the number of students who usually attend weekend parties, accessibility does not seem to have been a problem. However, there were rumors of students purchasing stickers in order to gain entrance to parties without attending consent workshops.

Regardless of relatively low attendance, Razi Shaban ’16, who was part of a group of students that organized a party at Olde Club, entitled Ten Inches, said that his party was a success. “The people who came to Ten Inches had a blast,” Shaban said. “People were coming up to us afterwards telling us that it was the best party they’d been to in a long time.” Shaban added that he was more invested in students attending the consent workshops than attending the parties.

Kerrich and Hill also felt that the parties were a success organizationally. “Overall, the structure worked quite well,” Hill said.

Kerrich echoed Hill’s sentiments. “It was really encouraging to have all the party hosts on board,” she said, adding that party hosts had given her positive feedback and expressed a desire to continue the project in years to come. The PAs and party organizers also worked with members of Phi Psi, Delta Upsilon, Kappa Alpha Theta and the WRC to provide partygoers with safe escorts home.

Looking forward, Kerrich hopes to make several changes as the project continues. This year, she hoped to have mandatory workshops in conjunction with both Genderfuck and the preceding weekend. While this turned out to be unfeasible, as Genderfuck organizers have struggled this year and did not want to add strain to an already difficult process, Kerrich hopes that in the future, the workshop attendance requirement can be tied into the year’s two largest parties, Halloween in the fall and Genderfuck in the spring.

To achieve this goal, Kerrich hopes to schedule more frequent workshops, which she also believes will improve the quality of discussion. “Maybe 20 to 25 students creates a space for more specific conversations, but also for students to feel comfortable not talking and just listening,” Kerrich explained. An average of 40 to 70 students attended each of this year’s workshops.

In terms of the content of the workshops, Kerrich hopes that the SMARTeam and possibly an outside workshop facilitator will collaborate to create a curriculum for different types of consent workshops. “I’ve heard support for different-themed workshops, creating a continuous process so that people aren’t going through the same thing every year,” Kerrich said. While the workshops would have the same basis, changing themes and major conversation points would add depth and interest.

Kerrich also hopes that the Student Activities Committee will come on board with the project and provide funding. Finally, she hopes that the consent workshops will continue to address critical gaps in students’ understanding of consent. “There is still a culture of awkwardness around consent,” Kerrich explained. In the future, Kerrich wants to change this belief, and also hopes to dispel the belief in a gray area around consent and intoxication.

Overall, Kerrich feels that this year’s process served as a positive beginning. “What ended up happening was totally legitimate and a good introduction for consent workshops on campus,” she said.

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