“So, a situation pops up, things are getting kind of steamy. How would you ask for consent?”
With prompts like this, public leadership scholars aimed to address questions surrounding consent and sexual health at We’re Asking For It, an event held on McKeldin Mall Monday afternoon.
In a partnership with the non-profit Cultures of Consent, students participated in activities like writing down how they would ask for consent and a spin the bottle trivia with categories about consent, legislation, body image and porn literacy.
Written down on large paper was “this is how UMD gives it” and “this is how UMD gets it,” the “it” being consent. Here, students and passersby recorded answers like the new classic “want to Netflix and chill?”, “are you okay with this?” and more straightforward responses like “let’s bang” and “want to smash?”
These activities aimed to tackle consent in a less traditional way than most students are used to, according to sophomore business major Madison Tegen.
“Obviously sexual assault is a big issue on especially college campuses, but just in general as well, so I think it’s really important that we approach it from a more positive way,” she said.
Tegen said the approach Cultures of Consent uses to education is something she’s never seen before and is why public leadership scholars chose to work with the organization. She said finding alternative ways to educate people while still having fun is important on campus because “it is difficult on a university level to talk about things like this in the way we can talk about it as students.”
Tasha Powers, a sophomore secondary education and history major, agreed consent education is crucial on campus.
“Rape has been a big problem on campuses nationwide, and especially the lines get blurry when there is drugs or alcohol involved, so we are just trying to make it clear to everyone that consent can be sexy, it’s easy and it’s a very viable option for everybody,” she said.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, 26 percent of female college seniors experienced nonconsensual sexual contact during college.
Cultures of Consent Executive Director Elizabeth Puloka said statistics like this are why the organization focuses on youths and how consent education is needed on campuses. She said campus environments are more conducive to people having more sex and engaging in risky behaviors, and that is okay as long as the behavior is consensual.
“Any kind of sex that is consensual is healthy and good for you, which doesn’t sound particularly profound when you say it out loud, but it is when you understand it in the context of how our culture understands sexuality, which is that it’s really, really loaded, and some sex is okay, at certain times, and with certain people, but we have a lot of norms and constraints,” Puloka said.
Cultures of Consent seeks to break these norms and taboos that sometimes turn people off from talking about sex, therefore leading to a lack of knowledge about consent. The organization focuses on three core areas, the first being a consent-based module where they teach people what consent is, how to ask for it and how to give it.
Second is the active bystander module, which is considered the most effective rape and sexual assault prevention technique according to Puloka. It discusses the idea most people out there are not committing rape and sexual assault and those people need to get involved in the conversation about consent.
Last is media and porn literacy, which seeks to understand how these mediums shape the way people view the world and sex.
“[Society is] not actually giving people the tools to be able to articulate what kind of sex they want, when they want it and how they want it, and even understand that for themselves, because we’re so bogged down by these risky and loaded messages about what kind of sex is okay for you,” she said.
Tegen said the goal of the event was to end rape culture and sexual assaults on campus, but a more modest and realistic goal is to reach the individual, which then spreads from person to person to become a campus-wide movement.
“If we reach one person today and they either feel empowered to ask for consent or say that they’re not comfortable with doing something with someone, then we’ve done our job and that’s the most important thing,” she said.
Featured Photo Credit: From left, Elizabeth Puloka, executive director of Cultures of Consent, Tasha Power, sophomore secondary history education major, Joey Williams, sophomore communications major, and Ashley Medley of Cultures of Consent pose for a picture during ‘We’re Asking For It’ on McKeldin Mall. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Kira Sansone is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.