Commentary | Who teaches consent?

Why Canadian high schools deserve better sex ed

By the time most of us arrived at university, our basic attitudes towards sex and social norms were already formed. Why does it come to a surprise to us when we hear about crude chants being shouted by froshies at universities across the country? Why is the conversation on consent just starting now? Consent education and sex education are the same thing. Why do we only learn about the pure physiology of sex, but not how to use it responsibly? It’s time for consent to be in the sex ed curriculum, and it’s time that we make our university culture one where consent is mandatory, not just recommended.

In the past month, two Canadian universities, the University of British Columbia and Saint Mary’s University, dealt with scandals involving frosh chants advocating rape. And those are only the ones that were brought to light – I wouldn’t be surprised if a plurality of schools had similarly problematic cheers. SSMU did a great overhaul of frosh this year, but the chants were crude in years past.

The state of sex ed in Canada, while better than in some countries, is still lacking. After researching the topic, I found that most provinces don’t even begin to cover appropriate relations, not to mention consent. Two provinces, Ontario and New Brunswick, pushed for progressive updates to the curricula, only to be continually beaten back by fierce opposition from Christian and parent groups. I was shocked to find that since 2005, Quebec has had no dedicated curriculum and sex ed has been widely left untaught.

How are we expected to magically appear at university, informed and confident about our sexual choices, if there’s been no foundation as to what is appropriate? Sex is impossible to avoid – it is everywhere on our TVs, on the radio, and in our schools. Teenagers need the resources and guidance to deal with it. There needs to be an honest dialogue from adults contradicting the attitudes and actions that teens are seeing on their screens. Consent and sex education go hand in hand. I can’t think of a conceivable argument from the socially conservative crowd. Teaching the proper use of condoms can be misconstrued as encouraging youth promiscuity, but teaching about rape and consent is universally agreeable.

Little of this can be changed by McGill or its students; this is the domain of the provinces. Frosh, realistically, is not the ideal locale for a dialogue about consent. The focus is (and should be) on having fun and exploring McGill and Montreal. Rez Project is a great start, but only covers students living on campus, and has limited strength as a one-time session.

What can be done, with minor effort and practically no change in our learning environment, is cultivating a campus culture that is firmly aware of what consent means, and is unaccepting of anything but. Ideally, the best way for this to happen would be through Canadian high schools. If high schools adopted consent education into their curricula, by the time they arrived at McGill, Canadian students would be informed and empowered. It would then become the norm and the rest of the student body would follow suit. But we can’t wait for the provincial legislatures to catch up with the times. Even something as simple as professors, during the add/drop period, putting a slide at the beginning of their lectures that outlines what consent means would go a long way in raising awareness and creating discourse. It’s little things like this that will help make McGill a place where rape is not tolerated.


Cody Kane is a U1 Environment student. Cody can be reached at cody.kane@mail.mcgill.ca.


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