Students split over Party With Consent

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While over a week has already passed since Party With Consent, the conversation that it generated is far from over. Collaboration between the Colby-Bates-Bowdoin Alliance (CBBA), headed here by Nora Hanagan, and the Student Government, the party’s official intent was to focus on the positive aspects of consent in an atmosphere that would draw students from all populations. In the days since the party, its organizers distributed a survey in order to gauge whether or not participants deemed it a success. The results pointed to a divided opinion across all three campuses.

One of the main ideas behind Party With Consent was to open discussion among friend groups about the “hookup culture” that has become synonymous with college life, and whether or not consent fits into this kind of social scene. The survey wanted to hone in on this aspect specifically, asking whether or not students had noticed a spike in these kinds of conversations, both within their friend groups and on campuses in general. The answers to both of these questions were split; many students felt like the topic was broached but that perhaps they and their peers were not having the “right” conversations, never really getting into the details about what consent actually means in the context of partying or otherwise. “Anecdotally,” said Hanagan, “I heard people talking about consent about three times every time I went to Commons.” Whether this is due to a genuine interest in the issue or the committee’s strong advertising presence in the days leading up to the party is unclear.

One issue for which Party With Consent received negative feedback from the administration was the availability of alcohol for those of age at the event itself. Students overwhelmingly found this to be appropriate, in direct contrast with the administration’s opinion. “There hasn’t been a big movement to reform the alcohol policy at Bates, which is a whole separate issue we’re not even trying to tackle,” said Hanagan. “We acknowledge that alcohol culture is a huge part of sexual misconduct, but we also realize that it’s very hard to change alcohol behavior, and that it’s more realistic to get people to think about their actions when they’re in that party environment.”

Most of the students surveyed agreed that the message of the party was probably lost on most people who attended and that the majority of participants were just looking to have a good time. Hanagan said that one of the hardest parts of organizing the event was striking a balance between the party and the consent. Party With Consent is already well-established at Colby, so they have the opportunity to focus their events more steadily on the issue at hand. “This was the first event of its kind at Bates, and it was really important to get a critical mass there in order to make it something people could get excited about and attend in the future. As the conversations become more developed, then we can move further into the consent side,” said Hanagan.

Unlike many of the forums and events targeted specifically at women that Bates has been working on since the fall, Party With Consent had a mainstream appeal and drew people who may not normally participate. According to the survey, 12% did not even realize that sexual misconduct was an issue on campus before Party With Consent. Although that is a relatively small number, organizers consider the ability to reach even a handful of students a success. “Commitment to social change and to intersecting topics like gender, race, class and other power dynamics, is always going to fall along a spectrum,” said Hanagan. PWC is about accepting everyone’s participation, no matter what the extent.

The event was a long time in the making. After the “It Happens Here, Too” panel in the fall, the Student Government talked a lot about what changes the administration could make, then realized that it is essential to focus on the student and campus culture aspect, as well. “We wanted to have a movement or a campaign beyond a forum because it’s not necessarily the best way to get a lot of people involved,” said Hanagan.

The committee started by looking at other schools’ programs and organizations, and eventually wound up connecting to Party With Consent, founded last year by Colby student Jonathan Kalin. This iteration of Party With Consent was received with lower levels of criticism at Colby, probably because it has a solid foundation at its home school. Here at Bates there are several different groups, such as the Women’s Advocacy Group, that tangentially address the issue of consent, but there is no organization that makes it a main issue. It is becoming a NESCAC trend to create consent groups aimed at men, like the successful Williams group Men for Consent, and Colby is looking to participate in kind. Party With Consent in the context of already-established groups is viewed by students as just one social movement aspect of a greater activist culture. “At Bates,” noted Hanagan, “people are concerned that this is the only thing happening.”

Each time we hold a forum or an event like Party With Consent, we tend to look at it like another piece in the puzzle, a step in the right direction that will eventually turn into something more substantial. Unfortunately, we are still missing a lot of pieces. Ultimately, the organizers would love to see students wrestling with issues within the topic, to try and foster a greater understanding of consent and how it does (or doesn’t) fit in with gender issues.

Hanagan mentioned that a few men are looking at forming a consent-based group on campus, and that creating an institutionalized leadership in already-existing programs is necessary so that motivation does not graduate with the current seniors. It’s possible that actions at Party With Consent mirrored typical hookup behavior at an event like 80s dance, but no other college party would be deemed a success or failure based on whether or not there was “grinding” in the same way a party with consent in its name has been. But that’s the point; by calling something “consensual”, people necessarily become more aware of their boundaries. And if we’re talking about consent, we will be more vigilant in advocating a safe campus community for ourselves and our peers.

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