Bowdoin Students Host College Conference on Sexual Violence

ConsentFest organizers Sam Caras ’15 and Laurel Varnell ’14

ConsentFest organizers Sam Caras ’15 and Laurel Varnell ’14

Last weekend, Bowdoin invited students from several New England colleges and universities to join a three-day program on preventing sexual violence.

This is the second year Bowdoin has been involved in ConsentFest, as the event is called. Last year Williams College hosted the event, and 10 Bowdoin students attended. This year approximately 35 students (including 10 Bowdoin students) from seven schools participated in the program. Staff from Bowdoin, Bates and Colby colleges also joined in, as well as staff from a local family crisis center.

The point of convening students from several campus advocacy groups was to learn what other institutions are doing and to compare best practices, Laurel Varnell ’14 explained. Varnell, along with Sam Caras ’15, organized the 2nd Annual NESCAC ConsentFest. They had help from Meadow Davis, associate director of student affairs. Also, Student Life Director Allen Delong, Director of Health Services Sandra Hayes, Associate Director of Health Promotion Whitney Hogan and Director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity Kate Stern all participated.

The conference included roundtable discussions on topics ranging from promoting sexual health to increasing dialogue around gender dynamics in the hook-up culture.

The conference included roundtable discussions on topics ranging from promoting sexual health to increasing dialogue around gender dynamics in the hook-up culture.

Students attending the 2014 ConsentFest arrived Friday evening from Colby, Williams, Skidmore, and Bates colleges, and Tufts and Brown universities. Lauren O’Donnell, a senior from Skidmore, said she came to connect with other students doing work similar to hers. “To realize that I and my group have so much to learn but also so much to give to others passionate about the same topics was pretty wonderful, to say the least,” she said. She added, too, that she was impressed to see the diversity of campus programs that tackle violence. “For instance, Skidmore only has one student group that deals specifically with things under the sex and gender umbrella, while Bowdoin has about six or so and Williams has a 24-hour anonymous hotline.”

Sharing Ideas
One of the events of the weekend was a performance by Speak About It, an organization founded by Shana Natelson ’10. Speak About It uses theatrical skits to stimulate discussions among college students about sexual consent, boundaries and healthy relationships.

The conference also included roundtable discussions on topics ranging from promoting sexual health to increasing dialogue around gender dynamics in the hook-up culture. Students investigated the best ways to educate peers about consent, bystander intervention and the support of sexual violence survivors. Other sessions examined ways to engage men in sexual violence prevention programming, as well as how to engage students through activism.

Part of the reason Bowdoin opted to host the 2014 ConsentFest, according to Varnell, is because Bowdoin has a lot to offer the conversation. “Many student groups here are engaged with this issue,” Varnell said, particularly the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, Safe Space, Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence, V-Day and V-Space.

Davis noted that this level of involvement from a broad spectrum of students has helped foster a safe and open environment at Bowdoin. “What Bowdoin does really well around this issue is we engage the campus,” she said. “We have many students thinking about healthy communication in relationships and about what consent looks like. And they are looking out for each other.” Bystander training, in particular, is a strong program here, she added. Last year more than 400 Bowdoin students were trained on how to protect students on the verge of risky behavior.

Also, many of Bowdoin’s longstanding programs around preventing sexual violence and relationship violence has been and continues to be student driven, Davis pointed out. “It’s students identifying what they want our culture to be,” she said. “It’s important to them that students look out for each other and that they talk about these issues.”

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