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Christ Church College, Oxfordvia Wikimedia

Oxford University college says ‘consent is a thing now’

Sarcastic much? This is how Christ Church student representatives described compulsory sexual consent workshops in their newsletter

If your university had a terrible track record of handling rape and sexual assault cases, you think its student representatives would be more welcoming of compulsory consent workshops. Not so at Oxford University college Christ Church. Its graduate common room (GCR) just sent this less-than-impressed newsletter to all postgraduate students telling them that attendance at the workshops was mandatory:

"Consent is a thing now. Apparently it hasn't always been (see Ancient Rome), but now it is. In a somewhat pleasant irony, you must attend, whether you consent to or not. But fear not, the atmosphere will be cordial and there will be delicious nibbles."

"Consent is a thing now." Consent: so hot for AW14! Consent: a total drag, but at least you get snacks. You can see a screencap of the newsletter below:

According to PhD student Kate Tomas, the message was part of the GCR social newsletter, which was emailed to all postgraduate freshers in the college.  

Tomas emailed GCR president Erfan Soliman to complain, pointing out that "women are raped in universities all the time. Not only this, but we are also sexually harassed, assaulted and this violence, perpetrated by men, is then made the subject of jokes and 'banter' like the example above." 

"I've since heard from three separate people that they complained about the newsletter as soon as it was sent out (I came to this a week late) and that the GCR president defended the newsletter," she told Dazed. "I have read his defence, and frankly, it could not have been written in a more condescending tone."

"It seems that a lot of people were upset and worried about the tone of the newsletter but were too scared to say anything. I'm not shocked by this. There is a very strong rapey-banter culture within the GCR that I have witnessed countless times."

Oxford and Cambridge were both hailed for introducing sexual consent workshops in order to combat sexual assault and rape on campus. Christ Church is one of the 22 Oxford colleges which made the event compulsory for students. A university spokesperson told us that the workshops were organised by GCR student representatives themselves – which begs the question why one of them felt the need to undermine the whole point by cracking cheap jokes in its newsletter. 

In August, an Oxford student writing under the name Maria Marcello called out the university's inadequate response to her rape in a Medium article. According to an NUS study, 37% of female students have experienced unwanted sexual advances, including catcalling, groping and assault.

UPDATE: Soliman has "unreservedly apologised" on behalf of the college committee for the newsletter. His full statement is below:

"I would like to be absolutely clear that the topic of sexual consent is no joking matter in Christ Church. The inclusion of a joke about the workshops was certainly not intended to trivialise the issue of consent, but was inappropriate and ill-judged nevertheless. I would like to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the entire GCR committee, and hope that anyone who attends the consent workshops on Friday will see how seriously they are taken by committee members and all peers."