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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

We need consent education on campus

The month of April marks the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The national recognition of this important issue recognizes the experiences of survivors and raises awareness about prevention initiatives such as education around consent. As this important month comes to a close, it is important that the Notre Dame community reflects upon the ways it has raised awareness around this issue while simultaneously recognizing areas that are in dire need of improvement. 

Take Back the Night

On April 12, the Gender Relations Center (GRC) applied National Sexual Assault Statistics to the student population of Notre Dame to represent the seen and unseen survivors of sexual assault on Notre Dame’s campus. 1,659 blue flags were placed on South Quad to account for the following statistics on sexual assault on college campuses: 26.4% of 4,260 undergraduate women (1,125 flags), 6.8% of 4,614 undergraduate men (314 flags), 9.7% of 1,692 graduate women (164 flags), 2.5% of graduate men (56 flags) and the 23.1% of trans and non-binary students who have been sexually assaulted on college campuses. While these statistics do not accurately account for the reality of Sexual Assault on Notre Dame’s campus, they pose an accurate representation of sexual violence that occurs on college campuses at large. 

On April 19, the GRC hosted Take Back the Night, a national event that aims to end sexual violence. This event was split into three parts: a speak-out where survivors can share their own stories, a march around campus and a prayer service at the Grotto.

Ultimately, this night aims to empower survivors and encourages allies to speak up and take action to eliminate sexual violence. This impactful event allows survivors to stand in solidarity with each other, validate one another’s experiences and offer support to one another thus creating a sense of community among a group of individuals who have often felt silenced, ignored and alone.

Title IX issues on campus

Many emotions were stirred during the speak out and there were multiple stories from survivors who took the initiative to report their assault to Title IX but were unable to receive the justice they deserved. Despite having an overwhelming amount of evidence and engaging in a full-on investigation, many survivors recounted having their cases dismissed while their assaulters received little to no consequence for their actions.

By definition, Title IX states that “​​No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

However, Notre Dame has not effectively utilized Title IX, leaving many survivors left hopeless and invalidated. Not to mention the re-traumatization of recounting their assault throughout a rigorous interview process and investigation. Put simply, Notre Dame has fallen short with implementing thorough and effective prevention initiatives and utilizing resources like Title IX to their fullest extent. 

Impact of effective sex education

The current education initiatives at Notre Dame around consent include a video-based program incoming undergraduates are required to complete, followed by a debrief during Welcome Weekend. Additionally, first-years spend one week during the Moreau First Year Experience talking about consent.

As a first-year who received adequate sex education in high school and recently completed these programs, I can confidently state that these initiatives are severely lacking essential content. As defined by RAINN, consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent should be clearly and freely communicated. A verbal and affirmative expression of consent can help both people involved to understand and respect each other’s boundaries. An example of an area where Notre Dame ineffectively communicates this important concept is by showing the “Tea Video” during the consent unit of Moreau. As explained in this article, the tea video uses the idea of making tea in place of having sex. While this metaphor may make the concept of consent easy to understand, it simplifies consent and assault in a way that invalidates the importance of the topic. Using this video as one of the main sources for education around consent is problematic, it makes light of a serious topic that should be clearly, accurately and explicitly stated. 

Another important factor to consider is the fact that 33% of students in the Class of 2026 came from Catholic high schools and that sex education is not commonly included in the curriculum of Catholic institutions. While Notre Dame is a Catholic institution, it is essential that it at least provides comprehensive consent-based education to accommodate the physical and mental health, well-being and safety of all Notre Dame students. Currently, the education initiatives that are in place only occur at the very beginning of the year for first-years. A more beneficial implementation would include consent education throughout all four years of the college experience, for sexual assault is not linear but a common repeating occurrence, especially on college campuses. 

While the GRC is taking the initiative to raise awareness about the importance of this issue, it is imperative that Notre Dame begins to uphold its mission of valuing the dignity of every person on campus by taking the necessary steps to implement a fulfilling, thorough and comprehensive education initiative around the important topic of consent. Not only would this effectively prevent sexual assault, but it would establish a commitment to ending sexual violence and prioritizing the health and safety of all Notre Dame students.

As April comes to a close, it is essential that students continue to raise awareness around this important issue to stimulate change within the Notre Dame community around improving the use of Title IX and reforming consent-based education within Notre Dame’s curriculum. No survivor should be left unseen, unheard or prevented from receiving the justice and validation they deserve. By continuing to raise awareness around this issue, Notre Dame can begin to respond to the needs of its students to create a safer environment for all. 

Grace Sullivan is a first-year at Notre Dame studying global affairs with a minor in gender studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at @gsulli22@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.