Thought police on campus: What’s behind ‘consent classes’ at British universities
is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte
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.”Also on rt.com Militarizing academia? UK university receives £400k from UK military for ‘cultural advice’ – report
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.
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