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University backpedals on consent module rejection

The University is now trialling a consent module after Honi wrote an article suggesting USyd was falling behind its international counterparts. Coincidence? Probably.

A screenshot from the 'Consent Matters' module, featuring seven cartoon characters with different names. Underneath is a button that says "start scenario" Epigeum's 'Consent Matters' module includes 'practice scenarios' where students can practice applying what they have learnt.

University of Sydney management are trialling an online consent module for students, despite a spokesperson telling Honi that the University had rejected the idea two weeks ago.

Last year, the Students’ Representative Council Wom*n’s Officers demanded the University set up an online module about sexual assault and harassment to be completed by all students semesterly.

A spokesperson for the University told Honi that “in reviewing the expert evidence and seeking advice from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) … it has become clear that this is not the most appropriate mechanism for achieving a well-informed student body on the issues.”

However, the University’s Safer Communities Working Group — a committee including members of the student body and University management — is currently trialling a program called  ‘Consent Matters’ developed by Epigeum, a UK-based company.

A spokesperson for the University said that while “the University’s position remains unchanged”, the proposal is being reviewed in light of the ‘Consent Matters’ trial.

The ‘Consent Matters’ module was developed in consultation with the UK National Union of Students’ Women’s Officer and the University of Newcastle.

Epigeum markets the program as “ideal for universities who want to articulate a zero tolerance approach to sexual violence and harassment.” Their marketing seems to have worked: the module was deployed at residential colleges at the University of Newcastle and the Australian National University (ANU) last week.

Wom*n’s Officer Imogen Grant, who took part in the trial, said the module is flawed and shows that “the University is not following its own standards of best academic practice when selecting a primary prevention module”.

“A student does not have to select a single answer, let alone the correct answer, to be able to proceed to the next section,” Grant told Honi.

“This means that many students will rush through the module without exposing themselves to any of the content, resulting in exacerbating the very attitudes we are trying to alter in the student body.”

“In addition to this, information on what is affirmative consent and how to articulate boundaries during a one-night stand was concealed in the ‘key terms’ and ‘useful advice’ icons in the margins, and not integrated into the main content of the module.”

Honi also trialled  the module. ‘Consent Matters’ has four sub-modules from ‘Thinking about Consent’, to ‘Communication skills and relationships’.

As Grant noted, students can click ‘next’ in the trial on every page and scenario without having to answer questions. There is a brief activity at the end of each module that can be easily completed without much prior engagement.   

At the end, students answer 10 multiple-choice questions, choosing from less than three possible answers. In short: we achieved 100 per cent on the quiz without having read any of the material.

Honi contacted ANU students to identify differences between the trial module and the final model that has been approved for use at their University.

In the final version of the ANU model, there is only one set of questions at the end. Students still retain their ability to skip questions, but doing so will count against their mark.

“The University should seek the assistance of international leaders in sexual violence prevention education, such as Professor Moira Carmody,” Grant said.

“The University must grasp the issue of sexual assault with the seriousness it has always deserved so as to start the cultural shift to making violence in all its forms unacceptable.”