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Consent Matters: Decoding Consent and Boundaries at Guttman

September 15, 2017 | Student Event

Guttman’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards demonstrated the college’s commitment to Consent Education by presenting “Consent is Sexy” on September 7, 2017. Designed to be part of the Office of Student Engagement series of activities during Weeks of Welcome, the interactive discussion aimed to engage new and continuing students and celebrated the start of a new academic year. “Consent is Sexy” was designed to enable participants to identify consent, communication around it, and the danger signs of unhealthy relationships and personal boundaries that can affect campus life.

Carolee Ramsay, Guttman Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards and Sylvester Allen AccessABILITY Specialist

Carolee Ramsay, Guttman Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards and Sylvester Allen AccessABILITY Specialist, facilitated student-guided discussions through live polling and the consent game.

The program was also part of a broader campaign aimed towards Affirmative Consent that will continue with online trainings for special groups of students, in-person trainings and activities by the Office of Student Conduct and Title IX Office, and more activities during Women’s History and Sexual Assault Awareness months. Affirmative Consent is a paradigmatic shift away from the “No Means No” approach, which is seen as more negative and places too much angst on the receiver to say no. “Consent is Sexy” was a deliberate attempt to get participants to understand that when the burden is shifted from the survivors to the initiators, it’s simple: consent is consent.

The main focus of “Consent is Sexy” revolves around the idea that consent must be given knowingly, voluntarily, affirmatively and continuously. Students were introduced to videos of other college students and their definitions of consent, scenarios from which volunteers played the consent game and participated in live, anonymous polling to determine fundamental myths and assumptions about consent and personal boundaries. Most participants understood the definitions of consent, but when it came to practical applications personal biases and traditions emerged. There was no universal definition of consent and boundaries, but most agreed that all parties in any given situation must be willing participants. For instance, 89% of the respondents agreed that a person cannot give consent when incapacitated or drunk.

The outcomes demonstrated the need for more conversations and programming around these areas. Dominick Hull, a junior, remarked that prior to this program, he never understood that consent had to be given each time. The polls indicated that many students had anxiety about behaviors that might get them accused of sexual assault while others had trouble creating personal boundaries out of fear of being accused of being selfish. The lines became even more blurred when participants began to distinguish verbal and non-verbal cues as a means of achieving consent and to learn that consent in the past does not determine consent in the present/future. 70% of students polled indicated that because someone didn’t resist doesn’t mean he/she has consented — a clear understanding of Affirmative Consent. However, 33% of these same respondents stated that consenting to some sexual activity, such as touching, can indicate consent to other activities, especially when we take non-verbal communication into consideration. The challenge here lies in the nuances of consent and students’ assumptions that nonverbal cues add more ambiguity to obtaining consent.

Students playing the Consent Game

Students played the “Consent Game” and indicated their responses about presented scenarios with traffic signals.

From the perspective of the Office of Student Conduct, it’s another piece of evidence that when we explain affirmative consent to college students, they are likely to embrace it and students can negate cultural myths and underlying assumptions that their needs and boundaries matter. Guttman and The City University of New York recognize the significant impact of all experiences of sexual assault and violence and are committed to promoting a culture in which these issues are not tolerated and that the campus is responsive and accountable to its constituents. While continuous education is necessary, students left “Consent is Sexy” with a greater awareness that meaningful consent is a voluntary, mutual, honest and verbal agreement which can never be implied and assumed. Most participants said they now have a greater awareness of the concept of consent, sexual assault and boundaries.

For more information on programs presented by the Office of Student Conduct, contact Carolee Ramsay at carolee.ramsay@guttman.cuny.edu or visit the Student Conduct page. Students can also join the campaigns or the conversation on social media @GuttmanOSC and #GCCWOW