Consent awareness and sexual education a priority for Calgary post-secondary populations

Stepping-Up-Imagethumbnail-2Mount Royal University students may not be aware that resources are readily available to address the issue of dating violence.

One of the biggest initiatives at Mount Royal is the Stepping Up program, which began in 2011 and has run every two years since. The latest version took place Jan. 23 to 25.

The program is based on a New Brunswick high school dating violence prevention program called Making Waves, and was specifically adapted for Mount Royal students by Mount Royal professors Gaye Warthe, Patricia Kostouros and Cathy Carter-Snell.

Stepping Up is a weekend long workshop that takes place in the winter semester. The curriculum is developed and delivered to the participants by students, who are referred to as peer facilitators.

Kostouros says that it’s important for Stepping Up participants to receive guidance from other people as well as experts.

“One of the questions that Gaye asked in her research is, ‘Who do you go to if you have a dating violence issue?’ and everybody said a peer, and so we realized that it’s the peers that really need this expertise,” says Kostouros.

The use of student peers gives comfort to those discussing what Kostouros says can often be a difficult topic.

The Mount Royal adaptation was renamed Stepping Up during the programs first run by the peer facilitators.

While many Calgary post-secondary programs and initiatives are getting positive feedback from students and being deemed necessary by faculty and experts, according to Kostouros they face some substantial challenges.

She says a male voice was missing within the program, but is now seeing a slight change.Devyn Ens In an effort to raise awareness about dating violence, Stepping Up held their event at Mount Royal University.

Image by: MRU Peer Diversity Education

“People saw it as a women’s issue but there’s so much coming out now where men are saying, ‘We need to be involved and having a voice in this,’ and saying that it’s not okay.”

Rachelle McGrath, the Health Education Team lead with Wellness Services also recognizes the difficulty in encouraging men to join the conversation, saying that around 80 per cent of the students involved in the various programs are women.

In the initial research conducted in 2010 for the program, Kostouros says Warthe found that about 30 per cent of students at Mount Royal University were experiencing or had experienced dating violence in 2009.

Kostouros, who is an associate professor in the Department of Child and Youth Studies at Mount Royal, says the program has received a positive response from Mount Royal students. However, despite the large number of volunteer peer facilitators, Stepping Up would still like to see more participants.

“We don’t always get our max,” Kostouros says. “In the first year we had a terrible snowstorm, but even in that snowstorm we had 33 students come out.”

On top of Stepping Up, several other resources are available to students. McGrath says that sexual health and consent are also being addressed through the Peer Health Education Program, and the Peer Diversity Education Program. These organizations allow students to foster knowledge to their peers on topics like sexual education and consent.

“One more person who understands that sex without ongoing, enthusiastic consent is sexual assault is one more person who will not unknowingly cross the line and commit a sexual assault.”

-Claire Gjertsen, VP of communications, CASE

Mount Royal also runs its yearly Sex Week on Main Street, which features a sexual health fair. In addition, the Students’ Association works with Security Services to provide the Safewalk program with student volunteers Monday to Friday from 6 p.m. to midnight, with other escorts provided by Campus Security at all other times.

A group of students from the University of Calgary have taken consent awareness and sexual education into their own hands, establishing a student run on-campus club that deals with these issues. It has seen great success, especially with their online presence.

Stepping-Up-ImageAll students are encouraged to attend the Stepping Up program events.

Photo by: Devyn Ens Claire Gjertsen, VP of communications for the Consent Awareness and Sexual Education Club (CASE), says that the need for student awareness on the topics of sexual consent and dating violence is important.

“I would love students — whether they be active members or just students who have come across CASE at the university — to understand the definition of consent and be able to utilize it in their lives,” says Gjertsen. “One more person who understands that sex without ongoing, enthusiastic consent is sexual assault is one more person who will not unknowingly cross the line and commit a sexual assault.”

Karla Danan-Ravela, VP of operations and finance for CASE, says that interest in the club has grown over the years, especially since they’ve won the Advocacy Award in April 2014.

Overall, Kostouros and McGrath think that the Mount Royal initiatives have been successful. They believe that the more the programs are utilized, the more students will become aware of them and choose to access the information and support around dating violence.

Peer diversity educators will be on Main Street Thursday, January 29th from 10am to noon to chat with students about consent. Wellness Services is encouraging students to stop by and engage in the discussion. 

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