Class-inspired event raises sexual consent awareness

As part of an assignment for professor Katharine Westaway’s Women and Gender Studies class, a student confessed that she had been sexually assaulted off campus. That same day, five more students told Westaway they were sexually assaulted, too.

Westaway then decided to make her class an “incubator for a project at UM.” This project evolved into Canes Consent, an event that will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the UC Patio to raise awareness of rape on and off campus.

Westaway’s students brainstormed ideas last fall for an event that will happen in the spring so students can learn about on- and off-campus sexual assaults.

“When one in four young women are likely to get raped on a college campus, it is important to localize the problem at UM and solve it,” she said.

While UM has sexual-assault-prevention programs like the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), there has not been an event like Canes Consent.

Students in Westaway’s introductory women and gender studies course (WGS 201) like sophomore Kevin Bell want the event to be “pretty festive for such a serious topic” and hope that they start a new tradition each spring semester.

These festivities will feature a disc jockey, free food from Subway and T-shirt giveaways. Student organizations like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and SpectrUM will prepare booths, and there will also be TED Talks.

The theme for Canes Consent will be “Yes Means Yes” to raise awareness that sex is OK as long as it is safe and consensual.

“The event has a positive message since we’re so used to hearing ‘no means no’ when it comes to this situation,”  said freshman Nayna Shah. “It’s more of an enthusiastic consent, and that is what we’re looking for.”

Despite her efforts to organize Canes Consent until the day of the event, Westaway left UM on a medical leave halfway through the academic year.

Mary Bartsh, a graduate student in Spanish, took over Westaway’s class and Canes Consent duties. She is excited to “have something tangible” to bring onto campus, especially because she has had a personal experience with this sensitive topic.

“Everyone needs to be aware of the strikingly high number of young women being raped,” Bartsh said. “I would love to see this university lead the pack for this movement at a local level and hopefully at a national level.”

Westaway emphasized that sexual assault affects everyone and not just women. She claims that most victims are not raped by strangers but by people they know.

“It’s not just a woman’s issue,” she said. “We want everyone to become used to an agreement of consent so that partners know each other’s boundaries before reaching the ‘no.’”


Canes Consent

Where: UC Patio

When: Noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday

The event will feature a disc jockey, free food from Subway and T-shirt giveaways.

“Yes Means Yes” will be the theme to emphasize that sex is OK as long as it is consensual.