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Lancaster University is credited as having one of the safest campuses in the UK. In 2014, the town of Lancaster was placed seventh in a survey run by The Complete University Guide. The survey determines the safety of cities that have two or more universities using contributions from the staff and students. Indeed, the university is actively working to make students aware of how to stay safe and keep the campus safe for others. These efforts have largely been met with an attitude of positivity and involvement from the student body, whose comments on the introduction of consent talks expressed similar sentiments of agreement that they are both necessary and informative.
During Freshers’ Week, when the newly arrived class of first-year undergraduate students was introduced to the rules and regulations of campus life and prescribed advice for surviving uni life, the subject of consent was brought up several times in ways that were both affirmative and informative. The daunting experience of moving from school or college into a university environment, which affords students a lot more freedom but also a lot more responsibility, was explained in several talks which took place over the course of Freshers’ Week. They were presented in engaging ways, and were concerned primarily with getting the message across. And as fresher Nick Gledhill stated, “Each topic could have had its own hour-long lecture.”
The Introduction talk, which was centred mostly on residency in the colleges, touched upon the subject of consent – both asking for it and giving it. Students were reminded that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and that people are allowed to change their minds. Furthermore, the talks informed students that boundaries must be respected for the safety and comfort of everyone, that alcohol clouds judgment, and that it is necessary to maintain self-control. The UniSmart presentation also addressed the subject in broader terms, presenting the idea of active as opposed to passive consent, and the difference between actively saying yes and remaining silent.
The importance of consent was one topic that also got its own hour-long lecture. Consent talks were mandatory events for all colleges during Freshers’ Week, and they focused on the nature of consent and sex. Justin Hancock, who runs the sex-education site bishuk.com for online resources on sex, and is the author of several books on the topic, delivered these lectures. With practical exercises and examples, he broached a broad and difficult topic to an audience which can often respond awkwardly to such issues.
The amount of rolled eyes, groans and inappropriate jokes that came from male and female students alike were to be expected at an event of that nature. Even so, privately and after the lecture was over, most people seemed to agree that the talks had been important in some ways, and even more, necessary. Cartmel fresher Sophie Beale-Burchell commented, “It’s good that there was a separate talk about it, it’s more about personal safety and it needs to be emphasized on. It’s a necessary step to combat rape and abusive behaviour.” However, she personally felt that the talk had been “all over the place.” Aside from the nature of consent, Hancock also delivered some information on sexuality and used audience exercises to get his point across, which some students felt was ineffective and detracted from the point. “I wish [consent talks] weren’t necessary, but they are,” added Gledhill. “There was a rape in Sugar a couple of years ago. I guess they need these [talks].” The incident that Gledhill referred to occurred on the first of October 2013 in the LUSU-maintained nightclub Sugarhouse, when a female student was assaulted in the ladies’ toilets.
When asked if the talks changed their perception of consent, students generally agreed that they hadn’t. “I guess you just kind of know what to do,” one student commented. What then, really, is the point of these talks? When asked if he thinks they are useful or necessary, one college Porter commented that he thinks they can’t really do any harm and can only help make the campus safer for the students. “Definitely not a waste of time. Anything that can make you safer just can’t be a bad thing,” he commented, echoing the overall positive attitude that students seem to have towards taking the steps to ensure their safety.
12th grader Victoria Petrova, who is a contributor to the social justice magazine Affinity for Life, commented that knowing the steps that the university is taking to promote consent would make her feel safer as a student there, especially as she is considering Lancaster University for her ungraduate studies.
It can be said that Lancaster University is really working towards raising awareness and improving campus safety and that the effort goes both ways, with the students being open to becoming more aware and more conscious of their environment, the people around them, their actions, and how they affect others, working towards maintaining an overall atmosphere at the university of safety and understanding.