Courtney is joined by Sam from Title IX and Maggie from RDVIC to talk about the most important of subjects: CONSENT.

Transcription:

All right. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm the director over at Well WVU here at West Virginia University and my guest today, and again, we're still not in the recording booth- we are recording once again over Zoom because we're being good citizens and socially distancing ourselves, uh, and following those public health guidelines, which is so important during this time.

Uh, but I'm joined by Sam from our Title IX office, and I'm joined by Maggie from a community organization called RDVIC. And so I'm going to have each of those folks introduce themselves starting with Sam. So why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role here at the university.

Well, I'm, I'm so glad that you reminded everyone that I am a responsible citizen because I am. Um, but in addition to that, I work at the Title IX office. My title is Title IX education specialist. And basically I do two things. First is I want to make sure that people in our community understand the resources that are available to people who may have been through something hard. And the second thing that I want to try to do, um, is to provide resources to folks in what we would call the anonymous process. And this is when people might want to call our office and see what kind of help they can get, what investigative options might be available to them, but maybe aren't quite sure. Whether they didn't want to make a formal report in the event that someone is in that position, they can call someone like me and talk through their options anonymously.

And that's a big part of what I do. All right, well, thanks so much, Sam. It's very, a very critical role here. Uh, and then Maggie, to be honest, I can't quite remember what the acronym RDV IC stands for. So hopefully you, you do because you are here. If you could just explain, uh, about your organization and your role there.

Sure. Um, so I work at the rape and domestic violence information center. We cover Monongalia, Preston and Taylor counties. I may have just said Monongalia wrong cause I'm not from here. So we provide supportive services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, stalking, and uh.

People who have been victims of those kinds of crimes. As children, we also provide some supportive services to people who are what are called secondary victims, which means they didn't experience the violence themselves, but it affected them. I am a domestic violence specialist, which means I have a lot of specialized training about domestic violence, but I serve all of our clients.

I've previously been our prevention education specialist as well. So I provide a lot of education around sexual assault. All right. And so this is a Wellbeing Wednesday first because we do have two guests, uh, so really excited that both of you were able to join us today. And today, our topic is consent, and it's a super important one, particularly on college campuses.

But I think there's a lot of misunderstanding around that term, especially in relation to sexual behaviors. So let's talk about the root of the word consent and what have you, uh, share what the root of that word is. Yeah. So I like to talk about the origin of the word consent when I talk about consent, because while a lot of the conversations we have about it are legal.

Uh, the meaning of the word really does tie into those roots. So Kahn is the Latin word for it together and send teary, which turns into the scent in the word. Consent is the Latin word for feeling. So consent together is together, feeling and together feeling exists. When everyone involved has a shared sense of the circumstances that they are in, uh, and an idea of what they want and need from an encounter and an interest in having everyone leave the encounter, preferably happy, but at the very least whole, uh, so that they're not harmed by the encounter.

And that's always how I think about it. And I think too, it's, it's worth pointing out, just as Maggie said, that we don't want to look at this as a concept that only exists in some kind of process or legal setting or written in a policy somewhere. I mean, we'll talk about that stuff a little bit today.

But really consent is a foundational idea for any time. We're trying to decide how to be kind to one another, and we will use lots of examples from romantic relationships, but consent is actually important everywhere, and we all have some implicit. Understanding of this. Consider for example, the idea of venting to a friend or a coworker after you've had a really difficult day.

I know this is a trying time for a lot of us. Probably a lot of us need to vent, um, these days. Well, we wouldn't just want to do that. Without talking to our friend or a family member first and saying, Hey, I'd really like to vent to you, or is this something you can hear right now? Because a lot of us are going through difficult times right now, and, and maybe someone who we want to get support from isn't in a good place to provide it.

And so thinking about consent, even in interactions like that is just a really important part of being a considerate human being. I think that's a great point, Sam, because even if you wanted to borrow someone's phone, it's not like you just go and take it. You ask like, yeah, yeah, we hope we don't just take it.

So from a policy, a policy perspective here at WVU, what is the definition of consent. So we won't go too far into the weeds here, but the basic definition from our policy is that consent is agreement, approval or permission as to some act or purpose that is given knowingly, willingly, and voluntarily by competent person.

And crucially. Silence by itself cannot constitute consent. So there's a whole lot that we could unpack there. But I think as we start giving examples of why consent is important, some of those principles will become really clear. Oh, for sure. Uh, and so speaking of that, so why would you all say that consent is beneficial for everyone regardless of the situation.

Giving someone the opportunity to consent to an interaction, no matter what kind it is, is at its core an acknowledgement that people have the right to control, um, to whatever extent possible what happens to them, what environment they live in. Um, and just. Shows that you have respect for that fundamental right that that person has.

Everyone has that we're not always encouraged throughout our life to stand up for our right to consent to what happens to us, to what our environment looks like. Um, I think especially when we think about, um, very young children are often not taught that they have the right to control their bodies, but when you do things like.

Body safety lessons where you're trying to teach kids how to be safe. Uh, it is really important to teach them that they have the right to control their bodies, that they have the right to say no to an interaction because that gives them the basis that they need as children. To build on that skill and use it as they grow up and being able to assert themselves is a really important skill.

And being. Uh, respectful and honoring consent from a very early age just allows that to continue to happen and continue to build positively on itself. I think one thing that is tempting to say here is that consent, maybe particularly in a romantic context, is important because getting a consent from a romantic partner, for example, it's just the right thing to do.

No, that's true. But there's also a lot of other reasons why it's important. Maggie did a great job of pointing out how seeking consent. In virtually any context from someone else conveys a mutual respect, a sense that that person is your, your equal. Um, and their preferences matter, their desires matter, and listening to them that, uh, that's just an important part of, of conveying respect.

Um, but what I really like. To point out about consent is that once you make a real practice of asking for consent from others, it's habit for me, and particularly in the context of close relationships you might have, whether they be romantic or friendships or family members or whatever, but once you make clear to someone you care about that you really want to know.

Uh, what kinds of things they want, um, what their desires are. You will find, I think that a lot of things, your relationships suddenly get a lot easier than the people around you realize that you're willing to listen, that you will observe their boundaries when they set them. And for that reason, uh, the people you're in relationships with will be a lot more willing to just.

To talk to you and that that is so key to healthy relationships in general. So again, we're not just thinking about this in a romantic context, although clearly it's important there. This is something that's habit forming. And once people realize that you'll respect their boundaries, that you ask them what they want, well, that tends to make for pretty healthy relationships for sure.

And do you believe that consent is limited to interpersonal relationships? No, sorry, I'm too succinct. Right. Um, I, I think that we really have to think about, um, as more and more of our lives move online and not just during the COVID-19 crisis, when we're all on Zoom and we're doing a communication with other people that way.

But even before that, right? When we're talking about. Um, you know, online dating or texting with friends or Snapchat or, or whatever, questions of consent abound. And I think that it is worth thinking a little bit. Uh, about how the world changing around us might impact, uh, the way we think about consent. So an example I often bring up, uh, because we do see more and more of this on college campuses is, let's say we have two sophomores who are in a romantic relationship.

And, um, one person, uh, really wants to send the other a nude, um, or maybe wants to ask their romantic partner for a nude. Um, and. If there's that kind of situation and consent becomes really, really important because it's not considerate or kind for Ron one romantic partner to be badgering the other about sending a new picture or a video that's coercive and it's not a healthy relationship.

By the same token. It's also not a healthy situation where you have one partner maybe sending those kinds of pictures and videos without checking in first and seeing like, is this something that's okay? So even online, um, just because we're behind a keyboard or behind it, the screen on our phone doesn't mean that we can stop thinking about the dynamics of consent.

That's really important. I would also say that also applies to that. Um, example we gave earlier of that person wanting to vent. Um, I certainly have a friend where if I hear the sound for their messages go off and I open my phone and there's a huge wall of text, I'm just pre upset before I'm even reading it because I know it's a stressful situation I'm about to be in.

Um.

Yeah. If it applies so broadly. Oh, for sure. And so I've, I've educated on this topic before many times, especially as a sexuality educator. And you know, the topic of consent is so important because you can't even talk about condom use without targeting first about consent and getting consent from your partner.

Um, well, what do you say to those folks who think that asking for consent, like ruins the mood or is intimidating? Like what is your, what's your response to that? So my first response is to say that, first of all, it's probably not going to be true, that it ruins the mood. Um, and that if you work on your delivery a little bit, it's definitely not going to be true.

That it ruins the mood. Tone is everything. Right. Um, but then the other aspect of it is that probably the worst thing that can happen if you ask for something is that that person will say no, and they might not be very nice about it. Um. And that can feel like the worst feeling in the world in the moment.

It can be really negative right after it happens, especially if you're someone who's really, really had to work up a lot of confidence to ask the question in the first place that no can feel really, really devastating. Um, but in the long run, you're going to understand that you gave that person the opportunity to.

Control what happens in their life and that their rejection was what was best for both of you. I think that, um, this is something that. You just get better at with practice. Uh, and it's understandable for people who grew up in such a way that maybe talking about sex or sexuality wasn't super easy, or maybe it was even actively frowned upon.

I think it's natural for, for people to feel nervous about the idea of talking to a romantic partner, but I think it's worth reemphasizing. Uh, just how unlikely the kind of worst-case scenario, that question presupposes actually is, right? Just ask yourself how often in the history of sex, uh, one person has said to a romantic partner, Hey, is this okay?

And their romantic partner has responded with anger. Like, what? How dare you ask me what I want. Like, how dare you care about my desires? Like that's, that is not a very human sounding response, uh, in, uh, in my mind, I think it's much more likely that, um, if a student or a community member or someone checks in with their romantic partner and says, Hey, is it all right if we do this?

That actually the romantic partner is going to feel really grateful. Uh, because implicit in that question, implicit in that check-in is the idea, um, that this is someone who cares for you. This is someone who wants to make sure you're feeling okay, that you're feeling safe. And 9 times out of 10, um, that kind of, you know, feeling cared for.

Is a good feeling for folks. So I think it's natural to be nervous. But I will say this, that when people make a habit out of talking to their romantic partners about what their boundaries are and doing so really clearly and kindly, I just don't think very often that it actually affects. And I'm doing quote things with my hands, which is great for an audio medium.

So that's, that's a helpful note for the audience. All right. Well though, that was awesome. So we've actually made it through our entire outline that Maggie and Sam graciously prepared for us this week. It was great. It was like we were writing a paper. Um, let's think about a moment in pop culture where, you know, the.

It was successfully demonstrated. Someone asking for consent and the topic or the situation that you all brought to the attention, I think is really great because it's also in a, in a movie that was in the audiences. Children. That's the intended audience. So Maggie, you're the one who brought this up, so I wonder if you could describe it for us.

Yeah, so, uh, the scene that I brought up is from the end of frozen. Frozen came out in 2013, so I think I'm allowed to spoil it for you. So, uh. Throughout frozen. Uh, Anna is interacting with a character named Christoph, and they are friends and they were very comfortable and supportive of each other. And then at the end of the movie, uh, she gives him a new sled because I think they destroyed his old one.

Um, and he gets really, really excited and he picks her up and spins her around in a hug and he says, I could kiss you. And then he puts her down, looks her in the eye and says, well, can I. And she reaches in and kisses him on the cheek and says, yes, and then they kiss and then fade to black. And I think it's, it's really sweet.

It's really wholesome. Um, and it's just a really good example of like these interactions. Uh, it doesn't take away from the experience. It wouldn't have been improved for Anna if Christoph had just grabbed her and laid one on her. Um, she was happy to be asked. And she reciprocated fully, and she consented really enthusiastically to that interaction.

Yeah. I think this, this kind of illustrates the flip side of what Maggie was saying before, that, you know, the worst-case scenario, um, when we ask for consent, is that someone says, no. And though that that can hurt, um, it is obviously something that we should want to know. Right. Um, and the, the flip side of that of course, is that when someone asks for consent and they get a clear yes.

That feels good, right? That there's a reason that the scene Maggie just described is, is moving. Um, and full disclosure, I, I cry at all children's movies just as a rule and I, that seems like a fact about me that I should just make it mortal on the internet. I, if you take me to a Pixar movie, I'll cry my eyes out and I did that one.

Yeah. So right out killed me. Oh, yeah. Wow. Um. But, uh, I think there's a reason that that interaction feels wholesome, as Maggie said, is that there's a simplicity to it. And, um, we know that these are two characters who respect each other and care about each other. Um, and in that moment who are viewing each other as equals, because that is what asking presupposes.

So again, I think it's. You know, little moments like that. Um, especially for talking to younger people, uh, that really add up to something. And the more we get in the habit, you know, this idea of consent being habit forming and mixed for healthy relationships. And I think that's an important point to emphasize, for sure.

Well, thank you both so much for taking time out of your Thursday afternoon to record this. I appreciate it, and hopefully we'll have you back. Uh, and thanks to all of you who are listening out there. This has been Wellbeing Wednesdays. I'm your host Courtney, and we will catch you next time.