Christ Church GCR under fire for trivialising consent

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A newsletter sent out to all graduate freshers at Christ Church has been condemned by students as “horrifying and awful.”

The listing for the workshops in The Old Ædesian, a Graduate Common Room newsletter at Christ Church, stated that “Consent is a thing now. Apparently it hasn’t always been (see Ancient Rome), but now it is. In a somewhat pleasant irony, you must attend, whether you consent to or not. But fear not, the atmosphere will be cordial and there will be delicious nibbles. GCR 3:00.”

The listing has come under fire for its tone, with members of the popular Cuntry Living Facebook group accusing the newsletter of being “elitist” and “misogynist,” and presenting the issue of sexual consent as “banter.”

Anna Bradshaw, OUSU VP (Women), criticised the “misrepresentation” of the workshops in the newsletter, stressing that while the “mandatory nature of the workshops means that all freshers’ in the common room need to be there at the start of the session in the same way as other talks/events in freshers’ week), but anyone can leave the workshops at any point, for any reason.”

Bradshaw went on to note that this policy ‘includes the fact that the content of the workshop might be triggering for some people.  We also work hard to try and ensure that survivors of sexual violence do not have to out themselves as survivors if they do choose to leave.’

Christ Church members have also responded with disappointment to the content of the newsletter. Kate Tomas, a member of the GCR at Christ Church, stated in a letter to the GCR President that “Women are raped in universities all the time. Not only this, but we are also sexually harassed, assaulted and this violence, perpetrated by men, is then made the subject of jokes and “banter.”

Christ Church’s GCR President responded to the criticism with an email to the entire GCR, writing: “I would like to clarify that the topic of sexual consent is no joking matter in Christ Church. I know for a fact ​that current committee members take this issue very seriously, and have put in a lot of effort to ensure that these workshops take place at college in the first place, in order to establish a positive community ethos within the GCR.” 

“Anyone who attends these workshops on Friday will see how seriously they are taken by committee members and all peers, as the ground rules we have chosen to implement state that there should be no humour at all during the actual conversations, and that everyone is free to leave the workshops at any time, for any reason. I have been assured by the writers that the joke in that passage was not at all intended to trivialise the issue of consent, but rather to poke fun at the fact that such workshops are long overdue. Despite the intent, even the slightest bit of humour in this context is very inappropriate, and I would like to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the entire GCR committee.”

Meanwhile, Jordan Black, the original author of the text, commented, “The newsletter was written and edited in close conjunction with people of all genders, including survivors. These workshops are designed to spark a positive and productive discussion about consent, and in that light I would like to make it absolutely clear that the joke in question was not intended to trivialise the issue, but rather to highlight just how overdue these workshops are.”

He added, “I worked to bring these workshops, which are currently completely optional for Oxford college common rooms, to the Christ Church GCR to make it clear from the outset that the issue of consent is taken extremely seriously.”

Christ Church GCR is one of only ten graduate common rooms offering the sexual consent workshops, half of which are making the workshops compulsory. All thirty undergraduate colleges are offering the workshops this freshers week, and at twenty-two of those colleges they are compulsory for all freshers, although students are allowed to leave once the sessions are underway.

 

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