Worcester State takes a creative approach to teaching about consent

March 12, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

Visitors to the Sheehan Dining Hall on March 5 were treated to a tasty and informative fry bar hosted by Worcester State’s Sexual Assault and Violence Education (SAVE) program as part of their Consent and F.R.I.E.S. campaign. The acronym F.R.I.E.S. is used by SAVE as a reminder that consent should be Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.

The idea of hosting a fry bar came to Sarah Valois, assistant director of Counseling Services and sexual violence response and prevention coordinator, at a previous tabling event. “We actually had some fake French fries on the table that people always try to eat because they look real,” she said. “And so we thought of a fry bar as a creative way to try to engage students around an important topic.”

In addition to enjoying waffle fries with toppings such as chili, cheese, and fresh vegetables made by the event’s sponsor, Chartwell’s, visitors also learned about sexual assault prevention. Visitors could enter a raffle to win a t-shirt or water bottle by answering true-or-false statements such as, “It can’t be considered sexual assault if someone doesn’t verbally say no” (False) and “Clear, verbal, and sober permission is the best way to ensure someone consents” (True). They could also take as many of the free “Consent is easy as F.R.I.E.S.” stickers and bookmarks and SAVE resource cards as they wanted.

This is the second year of the Consent and F.R.I.E.S. campaign, though SAVE runs sexual and intimate partner violence prevention and awareness programs through the year. “This campaign is an effort to bring this messaging and awareness to the broader student population,” Valois said.

In addition to the campaign, SAVE has hosted other consent-focused programs throughout the last two years, including a student panel and the “Can I Kiss You?” talk presented by international speaker Mike Domitrz, from The Center for Respect. Such programming is part of Worcester State’s commitment to creating a safer campus.

SAVE has several events in the works for April, which is sexual assault awareness month, and they are going to continue with the Consent and F.R.I.E.S. campaign over the next two weeks before spring break. “We know that’s a time when students might go away,” Valois said, “and we hope they have this messaging on their minds.”

“Student feedback around the consent campaign has been positive,” Valois said. “They want more conversations, ongoing conversations, so that’s what we’re trying to provide.”

Tylynn Brodie, a senior majoring in public health, was volunteering at the table. She has been interning with SAVE since January, speaking with students at events like February’s Wellness Expo and weekly tabling events around campus about consent and what to do as a bystander to prevent sexual violence.

Her work with SAVE has been eye opening. “I’ve realized a lot of students are unaware of a lot of the data around sexual violence on campus and just sexual health in general,” she said. “There’s a big gap in knowledge, so I think our goal with SAVE is to fill that gap.”

Junior FarahDiba Pagnoni, another volunteer at the table, had seen the SAVE resource cards and posters on campus and wanted to get involved. “With sexual assault, especially on campuses, being so prevalent, I really wanted the chance to be able to not only teach people about it, but really learn about it myself,” they said. “What it means, what it entails, and the resources available out there so I can help someone and educate someone if the time ever happens.”

Pagnoni says they are learning a lot while volunteering with SAVE, for instance, about what behaviors are red flags in relationships and the rates of sexual violence against men. As a public health major, Pagnoni hopes to continue doing work in the field of sexual violence prevention.

“I would like to inform people of my community, especially, what sexual assault is, what consent is, because a lot of the times the lines get blurred,” they said. “As a black woman, you can be seen as being hypersexual. We experience more sexual assault than our white counterparts, and are way underreported.”

They added, “It starts with learning.”

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