LSE has ended face-to-face consent training for all students after it refused a Student Union request to fund the scheme. During the 17/18 academic year, any student could attend consent training workshops. Now LSE has stripped its consent education down to a single non-mandatory online course.
As recent statistics show that universities across the country are facing a sexual assault epidemic, LSE’s decision to reduce its already limited consent training has worried students across the University. The Student Union Women’s Officer, Katie Tesseyman, has suggested that the University’s decision is driving students to act. The LSE Men’s Rugby Club has told The Beaver that it will use its own funds to pay for consent training for all its new members, while the Student Union is currently trying to find a way to fill in the void that the LSE’s decision makers have left.
In 2017, LSE won competitive seed funding from the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) to provide consent training to its students. The funding enabled the University to hire a full-time member of staff to organise consent training on campus. Alongside this member of staff, two LSE students were trained and paid to lead workshops on consent that were open to all LSE students. Over the year, 96 hours of face-to-face consent training was provided and this was accessible to all students.
In May 2018, after one year, the scheme was reviewed by Victoria Ibbett (the full-time member of staff in charge), whose report recommended that the scheme be expanded. In particular, the review recommended mandatory face-to-face consent workshops during LSE Welcome Week to all new students, enhanced consent training for student leaders, and the continuation of the part-time consent champions.
Within two months, instead of the recommendations being accepted or even responded to, the University decided to scrap face-to-face consent training.
In October, a liaison meeting took place between student representatives and LSE staff, including Andrew Young, the COO of LSE, and Dilly Fung, the pro-Director for Education. When questioned on why the recommendations were not accepted, members of staff are said to have expressed their belief that mandatory consent training would “not be productive”. They also claimed that they were also scrapping non-mandatory face-to-face consent training as they had run out of funding: reportedly, the School could not afford to fund the scheme.
This decision is quite unusual. Seed funding, the type of funding LSE received from HEFCE, is given on the assumption that the benefactor will use it to begin a long-term project. HEFCE explicitly state that the purpose of the funding was to “sustain the impact for students and institutions beyond the 12 months funding period”.
It is unclear whether LSE accepted the fund knowing that it would not fulfill its purpose or whether the University has simply decided that sexual consent training is no longer a priority. Either way, the decision has infuriated the students who worked hard to successfully establish the scheme at the University. Student Union representatives told the Beaver that LSE has failed “to honour their commitment to continued content training.”
When Minouche Shafik, LSE’s Director, was questioned on LSE’s decision to end face-to-face consent training, she stated that she was unaware that funding had stopped and “would look into it.”
Sexual assault at University
According to a 2018 report conducted by Revolt Sexual Assault and The Student Room, 62 per cent of students have experienced sexual harassment while at university. Only 2 per cent “felt both able to report it to their university, and satisfied with the process.”
Katie Tesseyman spoke to The Beaver, emphasising that “university is a place where you are so vulnerable, for many it is their first time away from home and their first-time drinking…so the University has a duty to make sure all students are safe and understand what consent means”.
Earlier this year, the University of Cambridge introduced a new anonymous sexual misconduct reporting system and found that the University had a significant problem after 173 complaints had been made in nine months. In response, Cambridge has now brought in sexual consent workshops for all first-years during Welcome Week.
Many universities in London also require all new students to attend consent training. SOAS led the way in this regard but they are not alone. Goldsmiths, after reeling from its own sexual assault scandal has decided that the best option for the University is to introduce mandatory consent education.
The Beaver contacted the University to find out their official position on mandatory consent training and the changing in funding. They said: “LSE will continue to run the face-to-face ‘Where Do You Stand’ workshops, which were previously developed with HEFCE-funding. Initially part of a three year pilot in partnership with the LSESU, these sessions form part of the sustainable, long-term activity at the School to tackle sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
“The workshops will be delivered to a range of people across the School community, including up to 200 students on the committees of SU Clubs and Societies and to those in critical student and staff facing roles, for example, Wardens, Sub-wardens, SU staff, Student Service Centre staff and Staff Networks. The content will remain largely unchanged from last year but modified slightly to incorporate a wider breadth of issues relating to harassment, with scope to focus on consent, sexual harassment and bystander intervention, among other things. LSE and LSESU are currently working together to recruit workshop facilitators.
“Other ongoing activities and facilities at LSE include staff receiving ‘Where Do You Draw The Line’ training, the Consent Matters online course – which is necessary for students to undertake if, for example, they want to apply for AU Carol tickets- the Report It Stop It tool, the system of Safe Contacts and the Student and Staff Counselling service. More information about the range of support for students is available on the sources of support page.”
Still, student leaders argue that on the ground a lot has changed and the University is going in the wrong direction. A Student Union statement passed on to The Beaver noted that “the importance of mandatory face-to-face consent workshops during Welcome Week cannot be overstated…the school still fails to realise how important it is”.
LSE Men’s Rugby, which four years ago was temporarily disbanded because of misogynistic and racist actions, has taken quick initiative. David Gordan, the club’s Outreach Officer, got in touch with The Beaver: “I have been working with the rest of the committee to deliver face-to-cafe consent workshops for members of our own club, and others.” All seven committee members of LSE Men’s Rugby have declared their support for using the club’s own funding to hire “professional facilitators to deliver the training on consent and related topics such as bystander training” for all of the club’s members.
This proactive decision was supported by LSE’s Student Union, which is currently trying provide support to societies to fund their own consent training. The SU has also begun to campaign the University to introduce “mandatory sexual consent training…for all students”. On the 15th of November, LSE’s Women’s Officer Katie Tesseyman is running an open meeting for all students to attend and discuss how best they can change the University’s decision.
Asher Kessler & Isabella Pojuner