Emerson community creates a culture of consent

Emerson College prides itself on its acceptance, LGBTQ-friendliness, progressive mindset, and general openness when it comes to talking about tough issues. But this semester, Emerson is focusing on revitalizing  sexual assault prevention and response here on campus.

The Culture of Consent initiative grew out of a movement started by a small group of students, including self-described survivors of sexual abuse, to reform the school’s response to sexual assault, according to Sarah Tedesco, a sophomore journalism major and co-president of Emerson Stopping Sexual Assault.

The term “Culture of Consent” was created by Tedesco and her fellow founders of ESSA last spring, and appears on Emerson’s website about sexual assault prevention and response policies.

“[Consent] is even more than ‘no means no,’” said Sylvia Spears, vice president of diversity and inclusion. “It means ‘you haven’t heard me say yes.’”

Throughout the summer, ESSA has worked with a variety of different administrators to reform Emerson’s sexual assault awareness and response program in regulation with Title IX policies, according to Tedesco.

“I see it as both doing the good work of prevention and education and information sharing, and also strengthening our response,” said Spears. “The initiative will begin to create a culture where it’s okay for people to report that they were sexually assaulted.”

Currently, new programs are in development stages for training faculty and students to support victims who come to them with reports of sexual abuse, according to Spears.

“People share their stories where they feel safe,” said Spears. “Sometimes it’s to [a Resident Assistant], sometimes it’s to a faculty member who they’re attached to. So our entire community needs to be in a position to respond in a way that’s supportive and helpful if any victim comes forward.”

There was also a presentation at orientation this fall on Culture of Consent, according to Rachel Dickerman, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major and an orientation leader.

“I think the best thing to do is educate and make sure there are repercussions [once an assault is reported],” said Dickerman. “I don’t want Emerson to be portrayed as a school that doesn’t take sexual assault seriously.”

Tedesco said the lack of resources and education for students became apparent to her last spring, when Emerson Confessional, a Facebook page where people can submit anonymous posts, published over 15 confessions regarding sexual assault in three days, according to Todesco. 

“There were obviously other [posts] since then, but the rate was really alarming to me,” Tedesco said.

Seeing the posts on Facebook, Tedesco said she recognized the lack of support offered to victims at Emerson and began to form the group now known as ESSA.

“No matter what was or wasn’t posted, we have to do everything we can do to make sure [students] have a safe experience,” said Spears.

Educating students on what consent means, eradicating rape culture, and increasing awareness on sexual assault-aiding drugs are ESSA’s hopes for the future, according to Tedesco.

According to Spears, students will notice the effects of the Culture of Consent initiative on campus, specifically throughout the next few semesters.

“I think this year you will see increased educational opportunities about prevention, increased education on how to respond if anyone does want to talk about it, and so you should see an overall increase in discussion on campus,” said Spears.