Trigger warning: article discusses sexual assault.
In my fourth and final year at Macquarie University, I am yet to complete the consent matters
module. Not for a lack of interest in the subject, or out of pure laziness, but for the very reason
that I might one day write this article. Almost like an experiment, I had hoped, that as my years
at Macquarie progressed, that the teaching of consent would become prioritised for students.
However, here I am, four years later, writing this to you.
Consent is an agreement. It is both a verbal and non-verbal way of communicating with another
person. However, regrettably, when it comes to university students, consent can have much
deeper consequences. Consent in a sexual context is one of the largest threats that we uni
students face. A report by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2017 noted that 1 in 5
students had been sexually assaulted, with 14% of incidents occurring on university grounds.
Not only does consent need to be taught by our universities and schools, but it needs to be
implemented, recognised, and performed. Consent is not as simple as a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
Macquarie University's current policies on consent education state that:
“The university will implement education and training for students, which may include mandatory
education and training.”
While the consent matters module is available for all students at Macquarie University, it still
remains an option for students to complete. There is no academic penalty for noncompletion.
Similarly, Macquarie has a mandatory academic integrity module. In my first year as a student at
Macquarie, I received an email stating that in order to access all of the learning material on
iLearn, I must first complete this module. It was here that I realised that Macquarie was more
focused on the academic integrity of their students than they were their actual integrity. Consent
education needs to be implemented as a priority, as students continue to face the daunting
reality of rape culture on campus. Here, it is important to note that certain measures need to
remain in place for anyone triggered by the topics covered in consent matters. These students
should not be made to complete it.
In an interview with co-presidents of Macquarie’s Women’s Collective (WoCo), Libby Payne and Amanda Matthews, we discussed the importance of consent education.
“It’s not standardised in school. Not everyone is getting it from school or their parents. So at
every step of the way where we can give education, I think it’s so important to do so,” Libby
Amanda continued, “while it’s not the university’s responsibility to fill in gaps, they can’t ignore
the lived experience of students.”
While universities are beginning to acknowledge the importance of consent education, it often
dismisses the culture that surrounds consent.
“It’s important because a lot of consent education isn’t nuanced to how we actually experience
relationships,” states Libby.
Amanda expanded on this idea stating that consent education “doesn't talk about the fact that
people know the difference between yes or no. What isn't discussed, is that when people are
interested in someone, they are encouraged by social media, movies, and music, to keep trying
until they change that person's mind. And it’s romanticised.”
“It signals that if it’s not yes – keep trying.”
When discussing what needs to be included in modules such as consent matters, a few ideas
were proposed by the pair.
“It’s about execution and delivery, as much as it’s about what’s actually in the course… My suggestion would be that you get course credit for it. If you made it feel as though people
were actually getting rewarded, and it was recognisable, then I think it would go a long way,”
Penny Huisman, Macquarie University’s Senior Manager (Interim) of Student Wellbeing, Equity and Inclusion outlined the current online consent training at Macquarie University.
“Online consent training is mandatory for all Macquarie University students. While completion rates are high — over 7000 students have completed the training this year — our major concern is always on how to improve students' engagement with the content, as engagement is crucial to behaviour change.
At the start of every session we reach out to students through multiple online learning channels, lecture slides, newsletters and emails to maximise awareness of the training and the opportunities we offer to understand more about consent.
The Respect Now Always team is always looking for ways we can improve what we do at Macquarie, including finding effective ways to deliver training, and developing education that is engaging and relevant to students, such as running peer education programs on gender violence. Where possible, we also work with stakeholders to build completion into some processes, such as some accommodation providers make it a condition of residency, or student leadership programs make it a condition of participation."
Both Libby and Amanda are also a part of the student advisory group for Respect Now Always at Macquarie. In a discussion on what changes need to be made by Macquarie in their consent
education, they reiterated that “it’s not for a lack of trying.” The RNA team are currently in
discussion about making changes to the consent matters module, however the current climate
has impacted its rollout.
One idea proposed by the team was to prevent students from accessing grades without
completing a module on consent. This demonstrates an approach that wouldn’t necessarily
impact a student's ability to access iLearn and assessments, but rather encourages them to
take part in the module and furthermore, the discussion that surrounds it.
“It can’t just be a ticked box,” states Amanda.
While there are currently discussions about changing the urgency of the consent matters
module at Macquarie, universities around Australia have already been implementing such
changes. Both Newcastle and Sydney University have a mandatory consent module that brings
forth real consequences with its incompletion. In conversation with Newcastle University, I was
“Students who fail to complete this module can be sanctioned with a negative service indicator
on their account which prevents access to enrolment… view their final grades, and access their transcript.”
In saying this, Macquarie has an abundance of online material relating to consent and sexual
violence. The MQ website offers information on consent, external support services, how to
respond and report sexual violence, as well as how to prevent such incidents. Even so, these
are features that I did not know existed until I began my research on this topic.
Libby agreed, “Before I had to do certain training for MQWC (Macquarie University’s Women’s Collective) I was not aware (of such resources). Often people still come to us and they don’t know about it.”
Macquarie University has the platform and the opportunity to be a leader in this discussion. As
students, this statistic directly affects us, so we need to recognise the importance of consent
education and how it is approached.
“Consent is important in encouraging people to be brave, have courage, to step up, and
respond, because if we don’t respond then silence is violence,” states Amanda.
So it is time to take action, Macquarie.