The gray areas encompassing the topic of consensual sex, such as alcohol involvement and the hookup culture at Lehigh, were discussed at the Women’s Center event “Consent and Consensual Sex” on Tuesday.
The importance of a safe and confidential zone for the discussion was laid out to a group of students and faculty that came to discuss the topic.
The first question of “What is the definition of consent?” was posed by discussion leader Emily Renee, ’15, who made it clear that not everyone has exactly the same definition of consent. She also reminded the audience that consent is a hard concept to put into words.
Among the most important issues that arose was the role that alcohol plays in the ability to consent. The audience seemed to agree that at a school like Lehigh, especially with the drinking culture, it isn’t always easy to judge if a person is intoxicated as compared to incapacitated, as stated in the Lehigh guidelines of consent.
“There’s no real line, everyone is different…it’s very difficult,” said Kristen Mejia, ’17.
Both the hookup culture and the drinking culture are making it hard for students to determine who is in the right mindset to give consent and what is a healthy, consensual sexual encounter.
Many people are familiar with the “no means no” perspective to consent. Recently, California became the first state to pass a law requiring a verbal yes from both parties involved. This has become somewhat of a groundbreaking progression in the need for consent, but also raised more questions for the students at the discussion.
The topic of non-verbal consent was one issue that came up quickly. Some felt that any type of non-verbal consent should be taken as proof for consent because it may be subjective based on the people involved.
Brooke DeSipio, director of the Gender Violence Education and Support Office, also spoke to the inclusion of the non-verbal part of the Lehigh consent guidelines.
“The non-verbal piece was partially for relationships…until you know each other’s communication for the non-verbal, you have to communicate,” she said.
Another topic of concern was the lack of conversation on campus regarding consent and healthy sexual relations.
“Is this a normal conversation…are people coming to Lehigh having these conversations about consent?” asked Rita Jones, director of the Women’s Center.
With this, those in the room voiced their thoughts regarding why the conversation isn’t taking place.
As students voiced their opinions, one concern was more apparent: the lack of males involved in the conversation. There was only one male present at the discussion compared to about 12 females.
The students also agreed that the discussion is not happening in a preemptive way. Instead, talks regarding consent are started only after an issue has occurred.
The Women’s Center holds open discussions often and invited all participants to its last performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at Diamond Theatre.