In this Oct. 26, 2015, file photo, Gender Violence Education & Support (GVES) Director Dr. Brooke DeSipio introduces speaker Don McPherson at the "You Throw Like A Girl" talk in Packard Laboratory. The GVES office and the College of Education are hosting focus groups to gauge Lehigh students' views on consent. (Lana Fabia/B&W Staff)

On-campus focus groups aim to gauge students’ views of sexual consent

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The Office of Gender Violence, Education and Support and the College of Education are conducting focus groups on campus to find out how Lehigh students define consent after a survey revealed students had mixed understandings of the concept.

Last year, Chris Liang, associate professor of counseling psychology; Christina Hermann, a graduate student in the College of Education; and Brooke DeSipio, the director of the Office of Gender Violence, Education and Support conducted research regarding consent attitudes on Lehigh’s campus through a survey. 

One of the reasons consent might be misunderstood is because of social behavior at Lehigh that often blurs lines.

“There’s obviously a big drinking culture (at Lehigh), and an idea that you have to be drinking to engage in sexual behavior,” Dana Gallant, ’15, ’17G, said.

One of the things they found from the survey was that similar groups of people responded in the same way. For example, members of fraternities and sororities responded similarly to each other, but differently than varsity athletes, who also responded similarly to each other.

“From the original survey, we found that we didn’t know a lot about students’ consent attitudes here on campus specific to Lehigh,” Hermann said.

These findings resulted in follow-up questions Liang, Hermann and DeSipio wanted to ask students. As a result, they have been conducting multiple focus groups this semester to ask students about consent on campus.

All of the focus groups are anonymous and confidential. No names will be shared.

“The focus groups are an opportunity for us to talk with students and learn more about some of the things that we were finding on the initial survey,” DeSipio said.

These focus groups consist of five to 10 people each, and they are aiming to talk to 25-50 students overall. So far, two focus groups have taken place.

They are looking for a total of five focus groups — fraternity and sorority members, varsity athletes, men, women and a final group consisting of anyone else who wants to partake.

“We want to make sure that we are understanding specifically what consent looks like at Lehigh so that we can tailor our programming and messaging to meet the needs of our students,” DeSipio said.

One of the current programs offered at Lehigh is harassment and gender violence training. This year, all first-year students, as well as club sport and varsity sport athletes, went through this mandatory training. The training sessions were an hour long and consisted of a pre- and post-survey and discussion and education about consent, sexual harassment, stalking and rape.

Liang, Hermann and DeSipio are planning to use the information they gain from the focus groups, as well as the results from the original survey, to take a look at the university’s policies, educational programs and overall training about consent.

They are still looking for more students to take part in the focus groups. 

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