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I've Got a Theory (About Consent Education)

When I was in grad school (for my first masters, because I sure do find myself giving all my money to higher education), we spent A LOT of time talking about student development theory. Chickering’s 7 Vectors was the most lauded, but Sanford’s Theory of Challenge and Support was the most repeated (perhaps, because it was the most succinct). I absolutely loved the way my professor, Dr. D-L Stewart, explained Sanford: an optimal mismatch of challenge and support. Too much of one or the other and we aren’t serving our student populations properly. It’s a delicate balance that requires you to really understand your work and your students.

So why aren’t we doing that with consent education, and mandatory Title IX training?

Y’all, it’s too much challenge! (and yes, I mean to be shouting).

Not just for survivors or potential survivors. Literally for everyone receiving this education. That delicate balance does not look like what we are doing now - focused on the legal language of mandates and outdated teaching techniques that the students find incomplete, impractical, triggering, boring, exclusive, and not useful.

They are shouting at us “Hey! This is too much challenge!” and they are met with silence.

We present the education, the mandates, and policies as the “support,” but intuitively, as practitioners, we should understand that is not enough “support.” The students are telling us that everything they’ve learned about sex and consent up until this moment has been inadequate and harmful. They’ve received so many confusing messages from the media, porn, peers, family, and society that it makes their heads spin when they sit in your mandatory training. It makes my head spin too. Young people and young adult have few opportunities for formal, meaningful, impactful education. They don’t come in with the supports they need to implement the tenants under Title IX.

While not everyone, generally, our students want to be better partners. And they want us to be better educators. Choosing to perpetrate is an individual choice; it’s informed by a series of actions, behaviors, attitudes, and cues they’ve learned across their lifetime. It’s the community edict that doesn’t accept that. But we do accept it in big and small ways all the time. So, the supports continue to give out, while we are challenging them, and we just ignore it.

Directly addressing their concerns with how this education unfolds is critical. Incorporating other theories, like the Circles of Sexuality or Sexual Script Theory would help all of us unpack the harmful ideas we’ve internalized around consent, sex, and sexual violence. Finding highly trained educators is another way to address it. Think outside of what we’ve always done - challenge yourself to support young people in ways that actually reduce sexual violence.

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