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Thought police on campus: What’s behind ‘consent classes’ at British universities

Thought police on campus: What’s behind ‘consent classes’ at British universities
The thought police has come to UK universities. As an academic I was horrified to find they are forcing new students to take ‘consent classes’. Gone are the days when you could opt whether to take a class or not. Attend or else.

Universities UK (UUK), the body representing higher education institutions, reports that universities are making young people take ‘consent classes’ before enrolling for their degrees.

Some universities are trialing ‘pre-arrival online consent courses’ with a view to ensuring that they are a ‘condition of registration’. A handful of universities already demand that prospective students take an online consent course before enrolling. Should they fail to comply with this requirement, their application becomes void.

The coupling of compulsion with consent suggests that these workshops have little to do with attributes associated with ‘voluntary agreement’ or freely-expressed desire. Their real role is to promote an authoritarian puritanical ideology.

For years activists have waged a scaremongering campaign to force universities to clamp down on an alleged epidemic of sexual harassment. Through the constant widening of the definition of harassment they have succeeded in creating the impression that universities are an unsafe place for women.

Consent classes have been at the forefront of gaining acceptance of the myth of an epidemic of sexual harassment. Throughout the Anglo-American world, campaigners promote the message that “you could harass someone even if you had no such intention.”

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According to their dogma, harassment is in the eyes of the accuser. Their workshops push the party line that says that if someone thinks that they have been sexually harassed, they probably were.

Take the UK’s National Union of Students Consent Workshop Facilitator Guide. It promises to provide a “safer space where people feel comfortable to explore topics, definitions and myths.” But the discussion it advocates, is anything but exploratory.

The Guide promotes a rigid party line, and anything that deviates from this is castigated as a myth or as a ‘problematic’ view of consent that has to be rectified. Students from Oxford University, attending these courses tell me that they had no choice but to toe the party line. As far as they were concerned this was an exercise in political education and nothing else.

The term consent class is a misnomer. These courses have nothing to do with real consent. Consent is associated with a voluntary act and is not with coercion or compulsion. The idea that you have no choice but to attend one of these classes certainly does not invite consent. Which is why it is something of a paradox that in many universities, advocates of consent workshops wish to make them compulsory for all students.

Consent classes are about policing the thoughts and behavior of young people. They are also about gaining acceptance for the idea that universities are facing an epidemic of sexual harassment. That students have no choice but to submit to this myth turns the idea of consent on its head.

By Professor Frank Furedi, sociologist and author. His book, ‘What Happened To The University’ is published by Routledge Press.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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