Consent Workshop Mandatory at First-Year Orientation

By Tandis Shoushtary (Art ‘20) and Juan José García (Art ‘20)

On September 2, the last day of first-year orientation before classes started, crowds of first-year art, engineering, and architecture students filled the Great Hall to begin their mandatory full-day Healthy Relationships and Consent Workshops. After some welcoming remarks by Dean of Students Chris Chamberlin, and an introduction to Grace Kendall, newly appointed Title IX Coordinator and Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, students were able to attend the first of three workshops of their choice in the new full-day program aimed at educating students on the topic of consent in college communities. The event was led by Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA) representatives.

Interview with Chris Chamberlin, Dean of Students

How did you get in contact with AORTA?

We actually got in touch with them a couple years ago, we were working with some students to bring a group to campus to talk about consent and do consent-related activities, and AORTA was one of the groups we found. We used their help for two consent workshops last year.

How did students engage with the workshop last year?

Last year, it wasn’t really a part of orientation. Attendance for the first one was not mandatory, so I think we had about four to eight students show up. It was a good workshop, but it just wasn’t what we were looking for in terms of turnout. So we reconvened, and we went back and forth about making a consent workshop mandatory because it almost seems counterintuitive to make a consent event mandatory. Still, we felt that the content was important so we made it mandatory and had a larger turnout for the event. It was good but it was also different, because it was a large space and it didn’t allow for a lot of one-on-one interaction, so some people get lost in the back. We learned a lot from that experience.

There are certain federal and state statutes requring that certain information must be given to students—such as Title IX, and The Violence Against Women Act on the federal level, and under New York law Enough Is Enough. Years ago, we used an online training to fulfill legal requirements, but based on feedback from last year, we wanted to make it offline, real-time and part of orientation. Last year, quite frankly, it was sort of thrown at the students at the last minute, and some of them didn’t want to be bothered. Once classes start it’s very difficult to find time when
people are free, so we knew that if we didn’t get it in during orientation [this year] it would’ve probably never happened.

Tell us more about the change in format.

A lot of the credit goes to AORTA. I met with them to discuss the pros and cons of what had happened last year, and how we could appeal to an audience in different ways. People may want to focus on different areas, and some of the topics can be really personal for folks and people have different experiences that they can bring to the table, so we wanted them to have the ability to pick and choose what they wanted to do. We came up with this conference-style day where there are three different block periods during the day and in each of those periods there would be a series of four workshops; students can select the workshop they go to.

The idea was to give people a spectrum of choice in some broader areas of consent in general, like how to help build a positive community, and also focus on some more narrow topics, like how to support a survivor. We have no formal survey yet, but the general feedback from students has been very positive.

Why do you, personally, think these workshops matter at college communities, specifically at Cooper?

In particular, because Cooper is a college, and students are in that age range where they’re changing from their parents’ care to becoming young adults and living on their own—and doing their own thing. In the research, this period is called the “red zone”, particularly with first year students.

At Cooper we have three really rigorous academic programs, and so we have a niche body of very high-achieving students, some who may come from a more specialized high school background.

The small size of the school means that it can be a really small, intimate environment, but that can be a downside sometimes. This is the kind of place where you can’t fade into the background, and that’s why some of the tools, like bystander intervention, were really important to our community at Cooper.

Interview with Kane Huyn (Art ‘20)

What did you think of the day as a whole?

I thought it was a very rigorous day, I learned an intense amount of information… Some moments within the workshops especially the ones related specifically to the queer and trans community were very taxing… Overall it was a very humbling experience, more in relation to the personal stories shared by fellow students during the workshops, rather than the information being offered by the reps

Why do you think it is (or isn’t) important to have events like these for college communities, specifically at Cooper?

I think it’s super important to have events related to social integrities and conduct because no matter how much students of our age think we know about how to handle situations that we find ourselves in, we can never know enough. Events like the consent workshop not only teach lessons that some may have never learned, they conjure discussion and deeper interaction between the student body. It’s impossible to be completely aware of everyone’s stories and lives, and for me, workshops that humble you and bring you closer to others around you are extremely helpful to the bettering of yourself as a person and a participant of an active community.

Interview with Ariana Freitag (EE ‘20)

Which workshop was your favorite?

I found the ‘Consent in Queer and Trans Communities’ workshop the best because I felt like I was surrounded by people that I felt safer around talking about things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with non-LGBT people. Also, I really like the topics we talked about and the people who hosted that workshop.

What did you think of the day as a whole?

I thought that the day was really valuable, and I’m glad that we were required to go, but it was also a very long day. I think the organization that hosted the workshops did a great job, but by the end of the day, I felt almost overwhelmed by how much we had to sit through.

Did you like the format of the workshops?

Yeah I appreciated that [the format was conference style rather than a lecture]. I do wish some were even more interactive though.

Why do you think it is (or isn’t) important to have events like these for college communities, specifically at Cooper?

I think that people brush consent and sexual violence under the rug at Cooper because it’s such a small school, but the matter of fact is that rape is an epidemic at every college or university campus, including here. It’s important for the administration to set a precedent at the beginning of someone’s Cooper career that rape and sexual violence is not okay. Yeah, you might not want to spend time talking about these topics, but it’s extremely important to stop rape on college campuses. I just hope the support for victims and survivors started with this event will be continued by the actions that the administration takes when rape or sexual violence is reported.

Interview with Valerie Franco (Art ‘19)

What was the format like when you attended the workshop last year?

It was just an hour-long lecture with the entire first-year class. That was it. I don’t actually know if it was really an hour, but it wasn’t an all-day event.” [Editor’s note: it was two hours].

How did the students engage with the lecture?

People weren’t taking it seriously; some people kept on laughing and making irrelevant comments. It just wasn’t well-structured and they kept on making us participate and answer questions but in general nobody was interested. At one point someone raised their hand and asked “why do we need to learn about this? It’s so obvious.” which just showed how many people in the community are largely unaware. I remember thinking “if it were so obvious, we wouldn’t have so many cases.” It was just a complete disaster.

Why do you think events like these matter at college communities, especially at Cooper?

“I think it matters because colleges are so diverse, specifically Cooper. It’s important to assure that, even if you have been educated on it before, people have a good understanding of what consent is and its repercussions.”

What do you wish had been different about the workshop you attended as a freshman?

“I wish it had been more informative, it wasn’t even really a lecture but more of a talk on what we had completed on the online courses.”

According to the Association of American Universities, approximately 23% of women report being sexually assaulted while in college. If you’ve experienced sexual violence and would like a confidential resource to talk to, The Office of Student Affairs is open on the third floor of The Cooper Union Residence Hall. ◊

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