Learning about #consent on campus: Fostering a culture of sexual responsibility

By in Culture

A trailblazing Saskatoon theatre company is educating youth on healthy relationships with their latest production #consent, a topic that is especially important to a university audience due to the ubiquity of sexual violence on campus.  

Sum Theatre is a local, independent company known for their Theatre in the Park shows. Five of the theatre’s values of community, innovation, sharing, citizenship and accessibility are embodied in their new play #consent. The theatrical piece dives into the connection between personal relations and the impact of social media movements like #MeToo in the conversations about consent. 

The play toured high schools around the city, approaching the heavy topic of sexual violence with grace and humour. Multiple artists collaborated on the script which intertwined poetry, humour, music and movement to portray experiences of sexual violence and examples of what consent culture looks like. The emotional depth of the production evoked waves of sadness and anger from the audience which was then soothed by the occasional interjection of laughter.

In the play, there was the comedic relief  ‘consent coach’  played by S.E. Grummett. This role guided other characters to practice consent by communicating boundaries and asking permission with any physical touch. 

Humorous scenes with the consent coach — like the one where they pray to the ‘goddess of consent’ Lady Gaga — balanced the heavier scenes of harsh realities such as a trans man experiencing transphobia and a woman in an abusive relationship. 

The sexual health education available to youth is not always effective due to the lack of guidance for non-heterosexual communities and in-depth discussions about healthy relationships and consent. When these issues are neglected, youth are left venturing into the foreign terrain of relationships without guidance on navigating healthy interactions. 

To increase accessibility of this information, Sum Theatre put on seven free public performances in addition to their high school performances, one being at the University of Saskatchewan. The play has another connection to the U of S with Heather Morrison, the lead creator of #consent, being an alumna who completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2008. 

The opportunity to have this play on campus is important as sexual violence is a prevalent issue across Canada. One in five women experience sexual assault while attending university, and a majority of the cases occur within the first eight weeks of the student’s time at university.

In 2016, the U of S launched REACT to Sexual Assault, an initiative to bring awareness to and provide support for victims of sexual assault which includes a resource website and a safety app. While these support systems are necessary, #consent shows the need for bystander intervention and believing the stories of assault survivors.

The #MeToo movement has been crucial in raising awareness about sexual assault and creating a community of solidarity to support survivors. Educating students about healthy relationships is vital to foster a culture around consent — one that does not tolerate sexual violence. Sum Theatre is using art as a vehicle to spread the message that consent is not sexy — it is mandatory. 

This project had a significant reach on the community and may tour again next year due to the support it has garnered. People are never too young to learn about consent, self-boundaries and communication. 

Having seen this production, high school students — or soon to be university students — might have a better understanding of consent and healthy relationships and be able to reduce the number of assaults that occur at the start of the school year. Sum Theatre is leading the way in this conversation. Hopefully, others will follow.

Lauren Klassen

Graphic: Shawna Langer / Graphics Editor