ASFA, ConU Officials Respond to Calls for Sexual Consent Workshops

CGA Launches Petition Asking for Mandatory Workshops in Residences

A banner advertising Concordia’s new Sexual Assault Resource Centre. Photo by Shaun Michaud

One of Concordia’s faculty student associations, the Arts and Science Federation of Associations, is apologizing for saying new students “don’t have the attention span” to sit through a two hour-long workshop on sexual consent.

“On behalf of ASFA, I apologize for the quotations in the article [published] in the Gazette on Aug. 1. We are aware that sexual assault is a serious issue that often goes unreported,” ASFA President Paul Jerajian wrote in a letter sent to the media.

“We know that undergraduate students at Concordia are bright individuals who can absorb information presented to them through lectures and workshops.”

The Montreal Gazette article reported a lack of sensitivity training on sexual assault by the association, which represents 15,000 undergrads—nearly half of the school’s undergraduate student body.

Though ASFA provides consent workshops to its 50 or 60 frosh leaders before the fall semester’s events, it doesn’t make the time to do so for the hundreds of students attending the events, which often involve alcohol. An increased number of sexual assaults have been reported during frosh events, according to Julie Michaud of the Concordia-based Centre for Gender Advocacy.

“The attention span of these 18-year-old kids is not going to last long enough to understand the bulk of the presentation,” ASFA VP Social Sean Nolan is quoted as telling the Gazette in an article dated Aug. 1.

In the letter, Jerajian says ASFA is partnering with AIDS Community Care Montreal and Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre to “develop consent workshops” and is working on ways to reach as many students as possible with the training offered to its leaders.

The association will be putting up posters and distributing pamphlets about consent and sexual assault. Jerajian says ASFA’s goal is to “establish mandatory consent workshops tailored directly to the needs of new students.”

Petition Still Up

The apology comes after Concordia University’s director of residence life, D’Arcy Ryan, asked that a petition calling for mandatory consent workshops in university residences be taken down.

The online petition, launched by the Centre for Gender Advocacy, cited a lack of knowledge surrounding sexual consent and the fact that one in four post-secondary students experience sexual assault—any unwanted act of a sexual nature.

“In the absence of this information, many students believe that it’s OK to have sex with someone who is very drunk, that there are some circumstances in which a person is obligated to have sex, and even that a person can ‘ask for it’ by dressing sexy or having multiple sexual partners,” the petition explains.

An update added to the top of the petition on June 30 claims Ryan asked the Centre to take the petition down.

He referred to the fact that Concordia’s student residents sign a lease, meaning the school acts as a landlord rather than an authority, according to Julie Michaud, the Centre’s administrative coordinator.

“It feels like an easy answer—there probably is a way through a code of conduct or supplementary contract,” she said, pointing to McGill University, which has been holding mandatory workshops through a program called the McGill Rez Project. The project is similar to those the Centre has been calling for.

Michaud explained that the appeal is a “natural progression” of the Centre’s campaign to address “rape culture,” the first step being the establishment of a Sexual Assault Resource Centre. Rape culture is the normalization of sexual violence, often in everyday life, Michaud said.

Ryan returned from vacation Aug. 4, but a university spokesperson spoke on his behalf the following day.

“He explained to me that he initially asked for the petition to be taken down because he felt it wasn’t the best way to begin a dialogue around those kinds of issues and that it really was taking away from the fact that there are real efforts being made at Concordia—through our Sexual Assault [Resource] Centre and the Office of the Dean of Student [Affairs]—to address sexual consent on campus and beyond,” Cléa Desjardins said.

“He made that call to the Centre and asked that they take it down, they said no and he backed off at that point,” she added.

The consent workshops given by the Centre work to give attendees a clear perception of whether a person is consensual or not in a situation leading to a sexual act, which isn’t limited to sex. Michaud noted that kissing someone without their consent is considered sexual assault.

The cues to determine if a person is consensual include body language, verbal confirmation and their state of mind, she said.

“If a person is extremely drunk, they can’t consent,” she said.

Though Michaud says she’d eventually like to see the workshops given to all of the university’s students, residences would be a good place to start.

The Sexual Assault Resource Centre’s coordinator, Jennifer Drummond, said it has plans to offer two consent workshops each semester. The workshops will be open to the public.

According to Michaud, the very people avoiding information about consent, and those who believe they already know, are those who need it the most.

Drummond says the information will make its way to students through their ties with residence staff.

“That is something that will also be part of that training: brainstorming together about how to get this information out to the [residence assistants] and to the students in residence,” she said.