In a 1994 episode of Seinfeld, Elaine introduces her new boyfriend, Aaron, to the New York City crew. Though Aaron seems overly-friendly, his tendency to “close talk” in other characters’ faces is perceived to be a little too close for comfort—a familiar scenario for many female students.
Lena Peters, a sex educator, anti-oppression trainer and social justice advocate from Toronto, showed the Seinfeld clip to a group of six Ryerson students to demonstrate barriers and personal space. Peters’s workshop, “From Rape Culture to Consent Culture on Campus,” was a part of Ryerson’s International Women’s Day (IWD) events. The workshop also comes in preparation for Ryerson’s scheduled update on their sexual assault policy, which will be discussed Wednesday during an open discussion on campus.
The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) organized Peters’ hour-long workshop that covered the lack of consent culture in academic settings. Consent culture is the solution to rape culture. According to Women Against Violence Against Women, rape culture blames targets of sexual violence while normalizing violent behaviour as a part of life.
Peters says that these kinds of workshops—while they may be small—are key. They allow students to “flesh out these ideas” about consent.
“I think there’s a lot of amazing work being done by student groups, specifically…student organizations that are mostly run by women and mostly run by progressive women who are funded well to do the work,” Peters says.
Janet Rodriguez, CESAR’s director of campaigns and equity, says that there isn’t a consent culture at Ryerson—but students are at the forefront of making change.
On Feb. 5, CESAR hosted a town hall meeting to allow students to voice their opinions about Ryerson’s updated sexual assault policy, which is set to be released by the end of the academic year. Rodriguez says that 50 students came to the meeting.
“Whichever way we can express that you have rights and that you have a right to your space, you have a right to your voice and if you have an opinion, you can say it,” Rodriguez says.
During Wednesday’s workshop, Peters also spoke about the pervasiveness of colonialism in Canada, including the colonization of indigenous land and bodies, and how it may be a part of rape culture. Peters, who is also an advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, says that Canadian universities are “in a moment” of talking about rape culture.
“I don’t think 10 years ago people were talking about rape culture outside of the ‘ivory tower’—and I know that we’re still in a university, but rape culture is now something you can see on CNN.”
While the topic of consent is pervasive on Canadian campuses, Peters says that a lot of people still struggle with what rape culture means.
“It’s so, so hard to come to terms with the fact that people experience sexual violence all the time and they experience it in millions of different ways.”
CESAR is holding an open discussion on what Ryerson’s sexual assault policy should include on Mar. 11 in the Student Campus Centre from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.