Wadham College has made its freshers’ week ‘Sexual Health and Consent’ workshops compulsory this year. The classes have previously run for a number of years but on an optional basis.
The classes are led and organised by OUSU-trained student facilitators, and have been taking place in the college for some years, but up until now, this has only been on an optional basis.
The hour-long workshops talked small groups of first year students through a number of issues including sexual violence, assault and rape. The majority of the sessions were spent running through scenarios in a university setting in which consent was either dubious, withdrawn or absent.
The move to make the workshops compulsory has, for some, been controversial. One third-year engineer expressed concerns that the workshop seemed “patronising and ultimately pointless”. She said, “Everybody knows what consent means.”
Other students were more positive about the classes though; one fourth-year physicist said, “It makes complete sense to make them compulsory because the people who are going to need them are the people who wouldn’t originally go out of their way to go.”
Wadham student facilitator Lucy Delaney acknowledged that there may be some controversy over the matter, telling Cherwell, “There were concerns that if made compulsory no one would go anyway, and certain people may see it as mundane or silly or ‘not for them’ or even too authoritarian.”
This is not the first time such events have been run in the University; other colleges have run similar workshops, including Corpus Christi, Christ Church and St Anthony’s. Pembroke is to host a discussion group about some of the messages conveyed in Robin Thicke’s somewhat controversial pop song ‘Blurred Lines’.
Delaney was also involved with the running of the non-compulsory sexual consent workshops running at St Anne’s College. Concerning these she told Cherwell, “There were obviously fewer people, and the ones who did show up were more clued up and enthusiastic. Yet despite there being the drawback of it not being compulsory, I still felt this was a valuable session — even those enthusiastic about the topic were still shocked by the statistics.”
This was the first year that St Anne’s ran the workshops, and freshers who attended received a free STACS (St Anne’s Coffee Shop) voucher.
Camille Fenton, the JCR Women’s Officer at St Anne’s and third year mathematician told Cherwell, “We do hope to increase attendance next year, along with training more facilitators to run the workshops. We’d certainly consider making them compulsory in the future, as the feedback was so positive and it seems to have worked very well at other colleges.”
Delaney nevertheless did acknowledge that it was difficult to judge the impact of the sessions. She said, “What I do know is that ‘grey areas’ were dispelled. I would hope people are at least more aware of what happens and aware of their actions.
“Around 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and 80,000 women raped each year in the UK. When people understand that rape and assault are not just anomalies, we can treat it as a serious, widespread problem.”
Sarah Pine, the OUSU Vice President (Women), provided training for the sessions. She said that she supports Wadham’s initiative in making the workshops compulsory telling Cherwell, “I would encourage lots of colleges to make these sessions compulsory in the future. Sexual violence is such a widespread problem that is under-acknowledged in the university as a whole.”
The Sexual Health and Consent workshop is not the only compulsory talk held in Wadham’s Freshers Week; students were also expected to attend an informal hour and a half discussion about ‘Welfare @ Wadham’, and a talk held by Wadham students about ‘life and work in Oxford as scholars and students’, amongst others.