What we talk about when we talk about consent


It was just addressed at New Student Orientation. It’s covered in training Resident Assistant training. Throughout our time at Trinity, we hear about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. We are taught the rules of consent, that “yes” means yes and “no” means no. We are shown videos on how to recognize dangerous situations and not to remain bystanders. Trinity administration tells us that anyone can speak up. But despite all this, the stats remain the same: One in five women are sexually assaulted in college. Why is this number so prevalent when we are told time and time again how simple consent is? Perhaps we are thinking about it too narrowly.

The Washington Post recently published an opinion piece from a columnist who visited her alma mater only to discover that there is a disconnect between the lessons we are given about sex and what actually happens at parties and in bedrooms on campus. The piece, called “Yes, get consent. But be human, too,” dives into the idea that it is not enough to get a “yes,” that there should be respect and acknowledgement of the shared relationship. Instead of viewing your one-night stand as transactional, Christine Emba writes, find it within yourself to see the other person for what they are: a human with similar desires for pleasure and intimacy. She argues it should not matter whether the relationship will last one night or several years; all people deserve the same respect in an intimate situation.

Emba raises a good point: why are we taught about consent in such a clinical, distant manner, when sex clearly involves much more than that? Through the #MeToo movement, we as a society are becoming more comfortable with calling out abuse, but when it comes to the “gray-area,” it is harder to parse out the difference between miscommunication and malice.

At Trinity, the Coalition for Respect is on hiatus because not enough students have shown interest in its mission to help reduce sexual assault and harassment on campus. The lack of interest raises the question of whether a coalition is the right mechanism for discussing safety and consent. Are students still interested in helping prevent sexual assault? One would think the answer is yes.

Recent news about the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh prove that we need to keep having this conversation and change the way that we discuss and think about consent. After all, we all still hear the rumors of what happens at parties and behind the closed doors of a bedroom.

To report a sexual assault and learn about the process for filing a complaint, contact the office of the dean of students or Trinity’s Title IX coordinator, Pamela Johnston. Resources for individuals who have been sexually assaulted can be found at the Rape Crisis Center website.