Consent, Sustainability and Diversity - Your Newest Additions to Matriculation

 

After a year of climate strikes, a summer full of discussions about sexual assault and rape in St Andrews, and a watershed moment in racial equality across the Western world, the University of St Andrews has made some small but significant steps in addressing these issues amongst their own staff and students. The university has been heavily criticised, particularly regarding their treatment of assault and abuse survivors, as well as in their attitude towards diversity and race. In response, they have introduced three new compulsory training modules, each aiming to inform and educate students on one of three issues: consent, sustainability, and diversity. This act may seem like too little too late for some, or may just be an easy way for the university to appear to care about issues that the students of St Andrews are demanding they care about, but I would argue that more important than this is the content, and consequences of these modules. Are they educating the student body, or simply doing the bare minimum? Are they the first step towards a more socially conscious, caring university? I sincerely hope so.
 

Consent

A month after the Instagram account St Andrews Survivors (@standrewssurvivors) exposed dozens of stories of sexual assault and rape in St Andrews, the University introduced a compulsory consent module to online matriculation. This action marks the culmination of years of campaigning by Got Consent, and has been welcomed by students. There is a hope amongst the hundreds of St Andrews Survivors and supporters that this is the start of a change: a change in the general understanding of sex and consent amongst students, and a change in the way that assault, rape, and abuse are viewed and treated by the university. When contacted by Her Campus, Got Consent released the following statement:

"At the request of the University, Got Consent adapted this module from our traditional in-person workshops. We (and the Student’s Association) have been asking for these workshops to be made mandatory for years, and we are so pleased that our hard work and campaigning have paid off! Overall, we’re happy with the module and very pleased that it was a mandatory element of matriculation. The module is not enough on its own to create a culture of consent in St Andrews, but it is a great first step! It puts all the incoming students on a more level playing field in terms of a shared definition of consent, knowledge of bystander intervention, as well as the University policies and procedures - which is super important." This statement has been shortened by Her Campus from its original length.

When speaking to students about their experience with this module, the response was overwhelmingly positive. For me, taking this module gave me a sense of relief and gratitude that the University is finally forcing its students to have an understanding of consent and sexual assault. The bystander training aspect of the module was particularly helpful to me personally, and I know that it has sparked many important conversations. There have been growing calls amongst the wider student body for consent training, and I am glad that Got Consent was able to create and share such a great resource with the students. I see this as a necessary and overdue addition to matriculation. 

Sustainability

Similarly, two years after Greta Thunberg began her climate strikes and 11 months after the town of St Andrews drew a line in the sand on West Sands beach against climate change, the university has introduced a compulsory sustainability module for online matriculation. This covers a variety of themes, including the effect climate change is having on the world as a whole, the environmental policies of the University of St Andrews itself, as well as general sustainability within Fife. The module comes with a number of resources covering waste, water, food, transport, and more.

When speaking to students about the module, the response was largely positive. The training was viewed as useful, and the fact that it was created by students from the Environment Subcommittee means it was sincere in its attempt to encourage sustainability. However due to the nature of the questions, the final quiz was at times more of a tedious exercise than training. The module was mostly fact and statistic-based, looking for very specific answers that students found irrelevant to productive learning about climate change. The resources were incredibly informative and helpful (perhaps more so than the quiz), but will only be used by students who are interested enough to pursue more information. This does not undermine, however, the fact that the module is about very important issues that many students are grateful have been addressed. Naturally, all these training modules have room to improve through student feedback, and the sustainability training was still a very worthwhile addition to matriculation. 

The Environment Subcommittee of St Andrews, a subcommittee of the Student's Union, describes the training module on their Facebook page as "an initiative created by students, for students. It is a down-to-earth, non-academic module in matriculation which empowers students to be a part of the solution to climate change. Everyone can make a difference and TESA is designed as a springboard to local eco-initiatives, practical actions and lifestyle changes'. There is no doubt that a Training in Environmental Sustainability Action (TESA) module is welcomed by the majority of students, and though not all students may have appreciated it completely, Her Campus hopes that TESA will be a permanent addition to matriculation.

Diversity 

The third new compulsory matriculation module was a diversity module. In theory, this module should have been welcomed by the student population - the University of St Andrews has been heavily criticised by current and former students for its lack of diversity and its treatment of BAME students. Upon taking this module, however, students realised that this module was not quite a step in the right direction. It was heavily criticised for its treatment of the issue of diversity within the university. The most controversial question asked 'why is it important for you to be interested in equality and diversity?'. The possible answers were 'because otherwise people might get angry with me,' 'workplaces are looking for people who are aware of these issues' or, shockingly 'it isn't.' There was no possible option for someone who genuinely cares about diversity, which is (it should go without saying) what the University should be encouraging in its students. This was the first question of the module and consequently set the tone for a module which focused on diversity for the sake of employability and refused to treat this as an issue of genuine importance to the wellbeing of students. As a result of this deeply problematic attempt at addressing the issue of diversity, the module was withdrawn. The module appeared to be from an outside source, unlike the previous two trainings which were created (at least in part) by students who are passionate about the issues being discussed. The BAME Student Network, who are a new subcommittee of the Student's Association, is now rightly in consultation over this training module. The President of the BAME Student Network, Ananya Jain, has said “the training has now been taken down and is being re-developed to include effective, sensitive and better content, in consultation with students. It will be redeveloped with the external provider and be relaunched at a later point in the semester.” I have high hopes for this, and I know that introducing students into the creation of the module (in line with the other two trainings) will make a huge difference in the sincerity, the compassion and the effectiveness of it.

Overall, these modules are critical to the education of students about important current issues, but nonetheless there is still work to be done in making them as effective as possible to bring about tangible change in the St Andrews community. If the activism ends here, then these modules will have little lasting legacy beyond the university’s attempt to placate the student body. But, if the university is capable of proving they care about these issues in the long term, then I will view these modules as a great (albeit it long overdue) step in the right direction. I am hopeful that, in conversation with students and groups such as Got Consent, the BAME Student Network and the Environment Subcommittee, our university can achieve greatness in compassion and social justice as well as in academics. 

Further information from Got Consent:

"If anyone is interested in getting involved with our work, they can reach out to Got Consent on Facebook or email ([email protected]‬). 

If students are more generally interested in learning more about sexual and gender based violence or similar issues, they can also get in touch with the Member for Gender Equality on Facebook by messaging or filling out the feedback form there with comments or suggestions."