A Culture of Consent on College Campuses?

by The Cowl Editor on February 10, 2017


Photo Courtesy of fathersforgood.org

by Meaghan Dodson ’17

News Co-Editor

Dr. Donna Freitas has spent the past 11 years researching campus hookup culture. She conducted a national study of Catholic, private secular, public, and evangelical colleges, and gathered data via online surveys, one-on-one interviews, and online student journals.  In all her research, she found that across three types of colleges—Catholic, private-secular, and public—“hooking up” has become the normal sexual experience for students who believe they are supposed to take a casual approach to sex in college.

On Thursday, February 2, Freitas shared her research with the Providence College community as she discussed “Creating a Culture of Consent: A Deeper Look at the Campus Sexual Assault Crisis.” The event was co-sponsored by PC Anscombe Society, Women Empowered, Women Will, Student Affairs, and the theology, women’s studies, and philosophy departments.

In her lecture, Freitas discussed how many students are dissatisfied with this campus hookup culture. Students are afraid to admit that they care about sex and relationships because they have the mentality that “everyone else is casual about it.”

Freitas talked about how the point of a hookup is for it to be quick, “efficient,” and emotionless. She also introduced the idea that there is a gender component to hooking up, with the word “hookup” often being intentionally vague so that men can imply that they did more than they actually did, while women can imply that they did less.

The majority of college students, Freitas claims, are “whateverists.” These people feel that hookups are just “fine,” but they engage in them anyway because they believe that is what is expected of them. To hookup is to “care less,” to care less than your partner, and to be careless about sex.

Given the context of this campus hookup culture, consent often becomes murky. Many colleges talk about consent, Freitas states, but what needs to be talked about is how to create a culture of consent.

After analyzing her research, Freitas believes that the norms fostered by the hookup culture are incompatible with the norms that should exist within a culture of consent. Ideally, this culture should reflect who students are as ethical and social justice-oriented human beings, and the conversation surrounding it has to focus on reframing what is “right” for students and what will make them feel empowered.

Katie Shields ’18 stated, “I thought the most important part of her lecture was talking about consent as respecting each other rather than ‘no means no.’ I think that if more colleges take that approach, more students will be inclined to listen.”