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Students discuss consent in Justice Fridays discussion

| Monday, August 31, 2015

The Saint Mary’s Justice Education Program kicked off the 2015-16 Justice Friday series with a conversation about sex and consent. The discussion “Yes Means Yes: A Conversation About Consent” was lead by senior Maggie Langenfeld and sophomore Alex Shambery.

Justice Education student assistant Maranda Pennington said the mission of the program is to empower students to make the world a more just and peaceful place.

“Justice education combats local and global injustice by transforming hearts and minds through experiential learning,” Pennington said.

Shambery said the discussion last year on campus regarding the documentary “The Hunting Ground” inspired her and Langenfeld to talk more about sexual assault on campus and what consent is.

“It seems as though a lot of students on campus have an idea of what consent is, but everyone’s idea of consent is different,” Shambery said.

At the beginning of the presentation, Langenfeld said a universal definition of consent is necessary in order to be clear about consent.

“We need to come to a consensus [about the definition of consent] if we are going to achieve anything,” she said.

Shambery and Langenfeld asked the audience in the open discussion about their own definitions of consent. Many definitions were given with a popular response being that there should be verbal consent in any sexual situation because it is important to respect the other person.

Langenfeld said a year ago, the State of California passed a law that changed the standard of consent. The law stated that all colleges in California had to change their sexual assault policy from a “no means no” policy to a “yes means yes” policy. The definition consent under the California law requires “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” by each party to engage in sexual activity.

“I hadn’t heard anything about the “yes means yes” policy before writing a paper last semester, and basically, it means you really need consent and that’s why we are here to talk about it,” Langenfeld said.

The presenters also asked the group how they felt about giving consent at every stage of physical contact and if it is realistic if two partners can communicate through sex. A common response from the students was to start discussing the issue early in the relationship, as opposed to waiting.

“Teach your partner, male or female, that you just have to have that conversation before you engage in sexual intercourse,” Shambery said. “Have the discussion and say ‘are you going to be O.K. with this’ and then make it known that even if they’re saying right now they’re going to be O.K. with it, that you are open to them telling you that it is not O.K. while you’re doing it.”

Langenfeld said they believe if someone is in a situation where they are uncomfortable they should say something, but also keep in mind that the other person may be uncomfortable as well.

“If you were to be having sexual activity with someone and they were uncomfortable, be careful because a lot of times guys feel like they have to be sexually aggressive, and they might be uncomfortable too,” she said.

Shambery said consent is a Justice Education topic because you have to respect other people’s personal space.

“You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have sexually assaulted someone else or someone has sexually assaulted you,” Shambery said.

Langenfeld said it’s great that legislature is changing, like the new law in California.

“They are changing laws … and you guys would need to know what’s going on and to possibly educate other people because I’m sure all of you understand … and can handle it so if you run into someone who is feeling unsure,” Langenfeld said. “We don’t know what is happening across the street or at other colleges in the country so if you know people, tell them about [‘yes means yes’].”

The Justice Friday series takes place every Friday in conference rooms A and B in the Student Center from noon to 12:50 p.m.

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About Alex Winegar

A junior at Saint Mary's, Alex is a Communicative Sciences and Disorders major. She serves as the Saint Mary's co-associate news editor. Alex enjoys traveling, food and spending time in "The Mitten."

Contact Alex