A call for consent

Needless to say, at Williams, we have a hook-up culture. For some, it works really well – from nights out at Mezze to going on a sunrise hike to having fun in Goodrich. 

However, there is also a scary fact that there is a deep problem with sexual assault within that culture. Several weeks ago, the College released statistics gathered from a rape and sexual assault survey. While many students have good hook-ups, the survey showed that there is an unacceptable amount of inappropriate sexual activity occurring. The numbers bear repeating: They state that within the last year, almost one in five females and one in 25 males experienced what is legally defined as sexual assault; almost one in 10 females and one in 100 males experienced what is legally defined as attempted rape; and one in 25 females and almost one in 300 men experienced what is legally defined as rape. Clearly, something about our hook-up culture has to change.

I have heard many people question the veracity of the results of the survey. Before I became involved in the Rape and Sexual Assault Network (RASAN) a year ago, I might have agreed with the criticisms. I assumed that if rape and sexual assault were common, either I would experience it or my friends would tell me about their experiences. But just because you don’t hear or see indications of rape and sexual assault doesn’t mean it doesn’t take place. When I started to pay attention, I saw the subtle signs that I had ignored for years. How many people doubt the veracity of the survey because they can’t believe the results due to their own lack of awareness?

A group of which I am now a part, Men For Consent (MFC), was started in part as a response to the shocking culture of sexual assault that exists here. Concentrating on activism as opposed to RASAN’s position as a support network, MFC is dedicating itself to providing a male voice condemning the culture of sexual assault present at the College. There exists an unfortunate fact about the conversations regarding rape and sexual assault that take place between males and females at Williams; in these discussions, men rarely listen to women. Men often feel blamed or accused and respond defensively. As unjustified as this reaction is, it is a fact that we must recognize in order to accomplish as much as possible. MFC – which is an all-male group, in hopes that it can more successfully reach the men across campus – aims to provide a space where males can have the productive discussions they feel uncomfortable having elsewhere, encouraging fruitful conversations that help bring about a culture of consent on campus.

One way to promote a culture of consent is to talk about the challenges in the broader hook-up culture – and, with that in mind, the Tuesday before spring break, MFC’s first public forum brought men and women together to discuss the hook-up culture generally. The topics ranged from intense dating practices to drunken hook-ups, from uses of the Log to abuses of Goodrich. The question at the heart of the forum was simple: How do we make our hook-up culture better, in every sense?

Honestly, I was shocked by the interest. On the Tuesday during midterms, 80 to 100 Williams students spent an hour at the event. I did not think people would be willing to leave the libraries. And yet, people turned up to discuss an issue that was obviously meaningful to them.

What became clear is that there are meaningful ways we can improve our hook-up culture – and create a culture of consent in the process. There were minor ideas, like making more eye contact with acquaintances, and more substantial proposals, like more speed dating. Mostly, people suggested casual dates, two people, soberly going out for drinks or a meal, without pressure and without expectation. I was struck by repeated support for the idea that the College should offer weekend activities with an atmosphere that lies between Goodrich dance parties and Williams After Dark. Many people felt that Goodrich had become synonymous with the blackout hook-up culture of First Fridays, necessitating a new space, perhaps the Log, that could represent a different kind of student gathering place. Students hoped the Log could help them chart a dating path between drunkenly hooking up and moving quickly toward a serious relationship.

Perhaps my favorite part of the evening occurred when the conversation turned toward consent. I am always struck by the enthusiasm with which women say they enjoy being asked for consent; many women mentioned how attractive they thought it was. One woman said that because same-sex couples don’t fall into traditional gender roles, consent is something asked for and given by both couples. She spoke of enjoying sexual encounters in which both parties actively participated in negotiating likes, dislikes, boundaries and preferences. She suggested that heterosexual couples do likewise, instead of relying on typical roles of males asking for and females giving consent.

MFC is going to look to continue this conversation in a variety of ways. Much more important is that each of us continues the conversation – that we each look critically at our behavior and take our own initiative to change our hook-up culture. By actively changing what we do – simply asking people out on dates, stopping our friends when they say things that perpetuate negative ideas about sex on campus, actively asking for consent when hooking up – we can each change the hook-up culture for the better.


Lowell Woodin ’12 is a philosophy major from New Rochelle, N.Y. He lives in Fitch.

One comment

  1. Thank you so much for the article Lowell!! Great work, great writing, and a very important subject to bring up

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