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Ottawa activist advocates for mandatory consent education

Workshop explores street harassment and sexual violence

Julie Lalonde, a queer feminist activist, is giving a workshop for Carleton’s Fall Sexual Assault Awareness Week. Credit: Submitted photo

Universities need to get serious about gender-based violence on campus and adopt mandatory, preventative education for all first-year students, one Ottawa activist says.

Julie Lalonde, a queer feminist, says she’s encouraged that so many people are talking about sexual violence on campus but maintains there’s still much more work to do to make universities and colleges safer, particularly for women and LGBT students.

“I would like to see mandatory content for all first-year students on consent, healthy relationships and anti-oppression at the bare minimum,” she says. “I think there should be high school content and elementary school content, but at the minimum if campuses want to curb this violence, they should be integrating this kind of content into all first-year courses.”

Lalonde is giving a workshop at Carleton University Sept 19 as part of the university’s Fall Sexual Assault Awareness Week. The week features workshops, a resource fair and a keynote speech on Sept 17 by Heather Jarvis, a queer feminist activist and co-founder of SlutWalk.

As director of Hollaback Ottawa, a local chapter of a global movement to end street harassment, Lalonde says her workshop will explore how street harassment and sexual violence are rooted in misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. Students need to talk about consent, healthy relationships and privilege, she says, adding that privilege was the root cause of the “Fuck safe space” incident.

On Sept 7, news broke that Carleton frosh leaders had been photographed off-campus wearing T-shirts that said “Fuck safe space.” One student frosh leader who wanted to remain anonymous wrote an explanation to The Charlatan, saying students were wearing the shirts as a protest against the “coddling” of first-year students, particularly the policy that forbade frosh leaders from swearing around students during orientation week.

“I think those T-shirts were the perfect example of being drunk on privilege,” Lalonde says. “I think it’s absolutely absurd that you would feel the need to form a protest about how you can’t swear at work, [which] I think is pretty much the status quo for most people.”

The students, including female students, who wore the T-shirts clearly didn’t think about the years of work it’s taken for universities to adopt much-needed policies to make campuses safer for women and LGBT people, she says. Learning about privilege would make students realize how “fundamentally unjust” it is that a campus can be a safe space for some and not for all — which is why safe-space policies are needed, she says.

The fact that the T-shirts were worn two days after a Carleton student appeared in court facing three counts of sexual assault shows the need for education addressing privilege, oppression and the continuum of violence, she says.

Campuses have high rates of sexual assault not just because they’re microcosms of society, but also because there are particular factors that put students at risk, she says.

“You have a lot of times young people experiencing independence for the first time,” she says. “They’re experimenting with alcohol and drugs and sex, and so there’s kind of a toxic mixture there if young people are not given education on consent, healthy relationships and anti-oppression.”