The blurred lines of sexual consent may be confusing and uncomfortable to discuss, but Kenyon’s president, faculty and students broached the topic last Thursday, Sept. 19.
The “Blurred Lines” panel discussion, which took place in a crowded Community Foundation Theater in the Gund Gallery, shed light on issues related to sexual misconduct and consent at Kenyon. Moderated by Rebecca Ogus ’14, it featured panelists President Sean Decatur, Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel, Professor of Psychology Sarah Murnen, Head Softball Coach Erin O’Neill ’02 and students Emily Estus ’14 and Abe Nelson ’14.
Director of Multicultural Affairs Chris Kennerly and Director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities Samantha Hughes thought of the panel as a way to provide students with continued education on sexual consent.
“I was at an orientation for academic advisors, and Professor Schubel made a comment that we need to talk about student relationships, and I went back to Samantha and we talked about it,” Kennerly said. Hughes came up with the title “Blurred Lines” because, according to Kennerly, “that’s really what it is when it comes to consent.”
After deciding to hold a panel on the subject, they selected a combination of students and faculty to serve on the panel. “We work here, but it’s not home to us 24/7 like it is for the students,” Hughes said.
Panelists took a candid but delicate approach to the subject and were not afraid to shed light on problems related to sexual misconduct relevant to Kenyon’s community.
One issue covered at length was the vagueness of sexual consent when individuals involved are intoxicated and the problems resulting from people “hooking up” while drunk when they wouldn’t have had if they had been sober. The issue, as Ogus said later, is “really tricky.” Shubel expressed his distaste for drunken hookups “because there’s no responsibility,” and they are the antithesis of the “wonderful human experience” sex should be. He also stressed students should be more mature in their attitudes toward sexual encounters.
The panelists also discussed changes in Kenyon’s consent policy made two years ago. The revision changed the definition of consent from an exclusively verbal agreement to also include nonverbal agreement. Murnen explained the new policy was brought up “to encourage enthusiastic participation and seeing everyone involved as a collaboration” in the hope of bringing a more positive sexual behavior model to campus.
Panelists agreed they felt the new policy was more reflective of the realities of sexual misconduct and open to victims reporting incidents. “It would be so much easier if all consent could be verbalized, but oftentimes it’s not,” Ogus said. “Even if you didn’t say anything, it still shouldn’t have happened, and it’s not right.”
In addition to problems resulting from sexual consent, panelists also discussed positive changes they’ve seen at Kenyon. O’Neill commented she felt there were more relationships and awareness since her time as a student. “I think people have begun to have more of a voice about these things,” she said.
Other panelists said they hope the significant increase in sexual misconduct reports last year was a result of the effectiveness of the new policy and students having a greater knowledge of what is and is not acceptable.
Panelists, as well as Kennerly and Hughes, were pleased about how many people attended the event, and felt it was successful.
“I wasn’t expecting the turnout to be as good as it was,” O’Neill said.
Hughes stated she saw it as “a positive change” that there were some men in the audience who weren’t sexual misconduct advisors. They also hope this event will start a larger conversation about sexual misconduct issues on Kenyon’s campus, as well as help students speak out against an ongoing problem.
“We can’t let this diminish the quality of the educational experience here,” Decatur said. “It’s wrong, it’s unacceptable and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
As part of the ongoing conversation on sexual misconduct, the College is also holding events as part of Take Back the Night, an annual program aimed at raising awareness about sexual assault and violence. Today, Thursday, Sept. 26, a forum on how men fit into the discussion of consent will be held at 7 p.m. at Weaver Cottage. Tomorrow, a Speak Out event in Peirce Lounge will kick off at 7 p.m., and on Saturday, Sept. 28, the Light Up the Night Carnival will brighten Ransom Lawn from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
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