story | Lindy Quek, Contributing Reporter
photo | Lindy Quek
“Each of us is involved in creating a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment on our campus. This workshop will help you understand consent culture and rape culture, the language used to discuss sexual misconduct at Yale-NUS College, and your active role in creating positive norms in this community,” reads the brief for ‘Are You a Kingfisher for Consent?’, a dialogue session that has been held for all first-year students during Orientation for the past two years.
The consent dialogue is a two-hour session of scenario-based discussions and sharing of experiences, facilitated by a staff member with assistance from the Residential College Advisors and Orientation Group Leaders. Students were introduced to the language of consent culture and rape culture, encouraged to share what they were comfortable with, and built on each other’s perspectives to understand how to make decisions that encourage consent culture. The idea of consent was also extended beyond intimate experiences; students learned about social boundaries in different aspects of daily interactions, for example, seeking consent before taking pictures of others. The content for the consent dialogue was jointly developed by the Dean’s Fellows and Andrew McGeehan, Associate Director of Residential Education.
As students are made aware of the concept of consent right from the start of their stay in Yale-NUS, this sets a precedent for the flurry of social interactions they will be having on campus. The need for awareness becomes even more prominent in light of the sexual misconduct cases that have surfaced this year in Yale-NUS and other local universities. Since the recent media spotlight on voyeurism, there have been numerous efforts across local universities to promote consent culture. Along with tighter campus security, stricter punishments for perpetrators and greater support for victims, there have also been more outreach activities to help raise awareness of consent to the wider school community.
Yale-NUS deals with sexual misconduct in a variety of ways – procedural (formal discipline process), educational (consent dialogue during Orientation), preventative or outreach (Kingfishers for Consent work) and creating support structures (Survivor Support Team). Sexual assault is a multifaceted and complex issue, which requires multiple types of responses, interventions, and preventative work in order to address it adequately.
Mr. McGeehan realized the need for more on the ground initiatives last year, and created Kingfishers for Consent (KFC), a group of Yale-NUS student peer educators dedicated to outreach and educational events related to sexual misconduct on campus. Since then, KFC has organized workshops aimed at teaching students the skills to support a survivor of sexual misconduct or assault, as well as dialogues on navigating relationships with perpetrators. In addition, KFC also runs the annual Sexual Wellness Week, including the “Take Back the Night” event which gives survivors a platform to share their stories.
These initiatives have been well-received by the community, including the week-long Consent Campaign held last month, where students pledged to take an active role in creating a consent culture on campus. “We had over 300 students sign the consent pledge this current year and we generally have an audience for every program we put on,” shared Mr. McGeehan, adding that students who have attended the programs have appreciated the opportunity to have frank and open conversations around consent and sexual assault. “We always want to encourage folks to join our conversations, even if they normally wouldn’t. It is important for all of us to engage in these conversations,” said Mr. McGeehan.
Indeed, efforts to reinforce the importance of consent have had a notable impact on students. For Shaharaj Ahmed ’23, the Consent Campaign was a reminder of how each individual has to exercise responsibility all the time. “When some people are drunk, things tend to go out of hand and we tend to be accomplices of such actions. This isn’t exactly something you think about consciously, but it is reaffirmed within this [consent pledge] that you actually realize whether your actions fall within the boundaries,” he said.
Though she believes that outreach efforts have been effective with those who were already interested to learn more about consent, peer educator Kanako Sugawara ’20 acknowledged the conundrum in engaging with others who are not as initially keen in the cause. “One of our goals is ultimately to engage with people who would not voluntarily go to our events. But we also don’t want to force a certain agenda onto the school, nor come across as patronizing or pedagogical. That’s something that we are still trying to figure out,” she said.
For Kanako, she felt that it was crucial for people to realize that sexual misconduct does not refer solely to rape. “Sexual misconduct is a spectrum of differing severity. I think every survivor’s experience should be validated no matter what,” she said. In her experience in being part of several KFC initiatives, she felt that one of the causes for some people’s hesitation in participating in consent-related events is the fear of saying something insensitive due to a lack of awareness or knowledge. “The spaces created within our dialogues and workshops are safe, and we are willing to meet people at whatever level they are in terms of survivors support,” she emphasized.
Being a relatively new student committee, KFC has been taking steps to increase its presence, both on campus and in the wider National University of Singapore (NUS) community. For instance, social media and collaborations with other student organizations in both Yale-NUS and NUS are being explored. “This year we will continue our community engagement with our new Instagram (@kfcync) as well as upcoming events and workshops this semester,” Mr. McGeehan said.
On how we as individuals can play a greater role in expanding a culture of consent among our circles beyond Yale-NUS, Mr. McGeehan shared some best practices that we could follow in daily life:
- Always ask others for consent in our daily interactions (i.e., can I come into your room? Do you want to have lunch? Do you have time to talk right now?).
- Name problematic behaviors when we see them or experience them.
- Talk about the consent pledge with our suitemates.
- Go to additional KFC events and/or engage our members in conversations.
- Avoid persuading, coercing, or forcing anyone into a physical/sexual situation with us.
“Consent culture means that we are thoughtful and considerate in our everyday actions, take other people’s needs/wants into account, and have frank and open conversations about boundaries,” Mr. McGeehan concluded.