A compulsory sexual harassment course at a leading Australian university which tells students they must get an “enthusiastic yes” before kissing someone was ridiculed, on Tuesday, as a box-ticking exercise.
The University of Sydney introduced the online module dealing with consent, which includes stick figure animations, as the global #MeToo campaign exposing sexual harassment gathers pace.
“If someone is not able to offer an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to questions about sexual activity you do not have consent,” the university makes clear to students.
It adds sexual activity includes kissing and touching.
But some students said it was impractical to ask for an “enthusiastic yes” before a kiss. “It’s a bit unrealistic, no one is going to ask for them to spell it out and ask for it,” University of Sydney student Eleni Vellios told the Daily Telegraph.
Another student, Claudia Reed, added that it was just a “tick-a-box exercise. It is the university’s way of saying, ‘We’ve done our part, we look good’, but it’s not actually going to fix anything,” she told the newspaper.
“As a normal person, this is so stupid. People who need to be taught what consent is and what it isn’t, the course is not going to help, it’s not going to change their mind.”
All students joining the university this year will have to take the module, although they did not have to complete it to attend classes, a spokeswoman told AFP.
Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence defended the course, saying his institution “makes no apology for opening up discussion on consent and trying to help our students navigate this difficult area”.
“Sexual assault and harassment are very difficult and confronting issues being faced by all universities as well as the broader community,” he added in a statement.
Sexual harassment at universities has been under scrutiny after a national study by the Australian Human Rights Commission released last year.
The report — conducted on behalf of the country’s 39 universities that questioned more than 30,000 students — found that more than half of students in Australia were sexually harassed in 2016 and seven percent sexually assaulted on at least one occasion.
The online “Consent Matters” course developed by London-based Epigeum uses stick figures to educate students on how to seek consent, how to recognise it and how to identify situations where it cannot be given, according to the digital trainer’s website.
Other universities reportedly rolling out the course to students include the Australian National University and the University of Wollongong.
Criminology expert Bianca Fileborn told the Telegraph there was little evidence of long-term change brought about by one-off courses, adding that they needed to be a “component of a much broader programme”.