Consent Matters Macquarie

ELLA SCOTT|FEATURES


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

states.


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,”

stated Amanda.


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

told that:


“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.