In 2010, the National Union of Students (NUS) ‘Hidden Marks’ report found that 68% of respondents had been the victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment during their University career. Further research in the 2013 ‘That’s What She Said’ report highlighted serious issues surrounding consent and lad culture at higher education campuses across the UK and the normalisation of sexual harassment and violence against women, prompting the need for consent education and for Students’ Unions to take action. Earlier this month, Queen’s University Feminist Society – which boasts almost 500 members – applied to take part in the NUS I Heart Consent pilot scheme which aims to ‘facilitate positive, informed and inclusive conversations and campaigns about consent in universities and colleges across the UK’. The application was a success and the society was informed that they would be one of 20 Students’ Unions taking part in the scheme.
However, the Students’ Union declined to host the events.
At the outset it seemed as though the SU has been unable to find room in its calendar for such an important campaign. With a backdrop of society event themes such as ‘CEOs and HOEs’, you could be mistaken for thinking that the SU didn’t view sexism on campus as a serious issue. Ellie Drake, Women’s Officer for NUS-USI explained that there has been a ‘miscommunication’ and Susuana Antubam, NUS Women’s Officer has clarified that Students’ Union cannot be pilot Unions without the consent of a Sabbatical Officer, which was not sought by the Feminist Society. Yet, when the Students’ Union was prompted to submit an application to become a pilot Union for the I Heart Consent Scheme before the Feminist Society applied, they did not follow this procedure. It is important to remember that this is an exceptionally busy time of year, tackling lad culture and educating students about consent should be a priority – and I’m certain it will be with the current QUBSU Equality Officer, Caoímhe Mac Néill, at the helm.
Regardless of the reasons behind it, the scheme will not be taking place at QUBSU, but the Feminist Society have been reassured that they will have access to any resources they need and support from both NUS and NUS-USI Women’s Officers for any related campaigns. Most importantly, it has ignited the conversation around consent education at Queen’s. Catherine Coffey from QUB Feminist Society has commented, ‘Although the loss of the campaign is a blow, it is not a crippling one, and I believe tonight’s outpouring of frustration will prove an excellent springboard to move forward with the QUBSU to implement more schemes and policies geared towards creating a more egalitarian and safer environment at Queen’s’. Let’s hope QUBSU, the University and the student body listen.
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