Back in July 2017, the #MeToo movement was far from seeing the light of day, but when our Generation Action regional organizer asked us what were our plans for the semester, consent was one of the first words to come out of our mouths. As college students, we’ve already dealt with issues of consent a countless number of times throughout our lives and in many different contexts.
That is why the most reasonable thing to expect is for this subject to be the topic of everyday conversation amongst our peers. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth. Even though we are in the 21st century, many young individuals prefer to avoid the subject of consent and safety. They say it’s “unnecessary”, something that “should only be spoken about when you are being intimate with another individual”, something that’s not an “appropriate theme of conversation with friends of peers”, something that’s still “taboo”. However, most of the same individuals that avoid talking about consent have encountered episodes in their lives where they have felt that their boundaries have been violated. If they haven’t experienced it themselves, they know someone who has. So why won’t they talk about it?
Consent can be a very delicate subject, but that shouldn’t motivate people to stay quiet and to avoid it altogether, instead it should inspire individuals to start conversations and to spread awareness about importance of consent. Generation Actions’ mission is to “raise public awareness about reproductive health and rights and to educate young people about sexual health”, so after realizing that our college campus and fellow students didn’t have enough information regarding consent and safety on campus, we worked together with Planned Parenthood to organize our “Consent and Campus Safety Workshop.”
Consent can be a very delicate subject, but that shouldn’t motivate people to stay quiet and to avoid it altogether, instead it should inspire individuals to start conversations and to spread awareness about importance of consent.
We brought Daneila McVea-Smith - a community health educator for Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida with over 8 years of work in the field of sexual health - into a room filled with 120 first and second year students in the Honors Program at Miami Dade College. The students knew what the theme of the workshop, however they seemed nervous and unsure about what to expect. Daneila began by making it clear that it was not mandatory for anyone to stay in the room and that if at any point anyone felt triggered, they were completely free to leave. Once she gave that disclaimer, she began by showing a video that used tea as a metaphor to introduce the students to the subject of consent. After that, the students seemed way more relaxed and opened to what Daneila had to say.
She continued by explaining exactly what consent is, the different contexts that involve consent, referring to some statistics, and engaging students in an activity to identify and refute the most common stereotypes about consent. Most importantly, Daneila explained why it is so vital that we speak about consent; “because everyone’s boundaries are different”. With this in mind, the students engaged in another activity Daneila had prepared that consisted of the students rating different activities individuals engage in while they are in a relationship depending on their levels of intimacy. By this point the students where comfortable enough to speak about the activities, which ranged from sexual acts to meeting the other person’s parents. Every group rated these activities differently, and at the end of the activity the students were able to make the connection themselves; everyone has different boundaries and different perspectives of the same situations. The students realized that assumptions can be wrong, therefore understanding that talking about consent and boundaries is essential for the comfort and safety of those involved in any type of relationship.
Wolfson Campus is in the center of Downtown Miami, a very hectic place during the day that empties of people as the sun goes down. After hearing the stories of many of our own peers about times they felt unsafe or incidents they experienced while on campus, we decided to include a section about campus safety. We provided students with information on what do if they ever felt unsafe, tips on how to stay safe on campus, and the resources that are available to them. Supported by the campus safety department, we talked to students about a phone app MDC offers to make sure students’ safety is not being compromised and to aid them in case they find themselves in an unsafe situation.
Once the session was over, many of our fellow classmates approached us to thank us for organizing this event. They agreed that this was a topic that needed more attention and awareness, and were very satisfied with the workshop. They also mentioned that they didn’t feel uncomfortable and although they had an idea of what consent was, they learned a lot from the presentation. Many students mentioned how eye-opening the activity of rating certain acts by levels of intimacy was and how it helped them to have a better understanding of why it is so important to bring the subject of consent to the table.
The college’s staff was extremely helpful and open to the idea of Generation Action hosting this event. We are grateful this institution cares about its students’ wellbeing and doesn’t ignore issues such as the lack of knowledge about consent young individuals are suffering from. We are also extremely grateful for Planned Parenthood and their staff for being so supportive and for helping us make this event come to life. We received great feedback and are currently planning to host more events like this in the future that will be available to a larger audience. With the beginning of a new semester and year, we hope to continue fulfilling Generation Action’s mission and to continue creating lasting changes that will make a difference and generate action in our community.