ASUC commission aims to promote sexual violence awareness with Cal Consent Week

Ryan Serpa/Staff

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Among the student organizations pushing flyers and selling doughnuts on Sproul Plaza, students at an unassuming table are offering free condoms, dental dams and their voices this week to promote a culture of consent on campus and to end sexual violence.

Cal Consent Week, an ASUC Sexual Assault Commission-sponsored campaign, aims to increase visibility of the anti-sexual violence movement, educate people on rape culture and support sexual assault survivors with workshops, a photo shoot, panels and a display on the steps outside Sproul Hall.

Consent is the presence of a clear, affirmative yes, not the absence of a no, said Marisa McConnell, assistant director of the sexual assault commission.

“There is no gray area, and we’re attempting to eliminate this misunderstanding created by (the present) culture,” McConnell said.

Sheena Paul, a member of the commission, said this year’s workshops “fit (the) diverse student body.” She led a workshop Monday for campus community leaders to learn how to create action plans to support survivors. Paul will also facilitate a fish bowl-style panel Thursday, where female-identified underrepresented minority students will share their experiences at the Multicultural Community Center, which she hopes will provide a form of healing for audiences.

“We can talk about sexual violence and not feel destroyed but feel empowered we’re having these conversations,” Paul said.

Citing frustration with a lack of male involvement in the anti-sexual assault movement and a need for fraternities to be informed on these issues, ASUC Senator Grant Genske will also be leading a “Healthy Masculinity” workshop Thursday to educate and mobilize male-identified individuals to support survivors and end sexual assault.

Genske, who identifies as queer, will also attend a workshop regarding sexual violence in the LGBT community Wednesday. He said talking about sexual violence is especially difficult for LGBT individuals, who have struggled to establish their own sexuality outside of a heteronormative frame.

ASUC Student Advocate Rishi Ahuja said that while the ASUC and the university — particularly the President’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault, established in June — are effecting policy changes to support sexual assault survivors, there is a “cultural-change component” that needs to happen on campus.

Cal Consent Week arrives this year after a recent shift in campus attitude that encourages students to talk about sexual assault, said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn. She said that two years ago, when she was campaigning for ASUC Senate, some people thought CalSERVE’s “6000 in Solidarity” campaign, which supported sexual assault survivors, exploited the issue.

Previous projects organized by the sexual assault commission include the Cal Clothesline Project in September and the “Carry that Weight” event in October, according to ASUC Senator Haley Broder.

McConnell said that during Monday’s photo shoot, in which people took photos holding posters on which they defined what consent meant to them, a woman whom McConnell described as “quiet and timid” asked to have her photo taken on Sproul Plaza.

“It was very empowering because to me, she came across as very soft-spoken,” McConnell said. “Seeing that she was very excited … showed me why these sorts of events are crucial for the movement.”

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ayoonhendricks.