BYU’s Title IX office held an event aimed at teaching college students the meaning of consent and why it matters on Wednesday, Jan. 31.
The program, “Can I Kiss You,” is not unique to BYU. It was designed by the Date Safe Project and is taught on tens of thousands of North American college campuses every year.
Mike Domish, creator of the program, first presented the program at BYU in November 2016, according to BYU’s Title IX Victim Advocate Tiffany Turley. Turley and her colleagues felt the program would be perfect for BYU students.
“Other universities address (consent) in the context of, ‘Before you have sex with someone, get consent,'” Turley said. “We obviously want to address that here (at BYU), but in a different way — how consent relates to things even before just sex like, holding hands or kissing.”
The Title IX office worked with the Date Safe Project to purchase the “Can I Kiss You” curriculum. Although Turley said the program has been “tweaked” to relate to BYU students, it is based on the original program.
The on-campus event was held in the Wilkinson Student Center Varsity Theater. In her introductory statement, Turley said consent and sexual assault are tied together and would both be addressed during the program.
“In order to end sexual assault and domestic violence on campus, we have to be willing to talk about it,” Turley said.
The first topic Turley addressed was body language and whether it can be relied on. The short answer, according to Turley, is no.
“Body language is tricky, especially when you’re getting to know someone,” Turley said.
To demonstrate, Turley called up two volunteers from the audience, a male student and a female student. She would whisper into the ear of one of the students and then direct him or her to communicate what Turley had said using only body language.
The volunteers struggled to understand each other without the use of verbal communication, illustrating Turley’s point.
“Yes, body language is part of communication, but verbal communication when it comes to consent is better,” Turley said. “Don’t rely on body language entirely.”
Turley told students if they left learning just one message, it would be to “just ask.”
Turley then addressed the idea that asking for consent is often described as “uncomfortable.” She attributes discomfort to culture — and not just LDS culture. She said women are taught to be “nice” and “passive,” whereas men are taught to be “aggressive.”
Title IX Deputy Coordinator Marcus Williams spoke next, adding his thoughts to the idea that asking for consent to kiss someone is uncomfortable.
“If you’re afraid to ask because you think the answer might be ‘no,’ maybe you’re not at a point where you should be doing any kissing,” Williams said. “Is there really a legitimate reason why you wouldn’t ask?”
The next slide of the PowerPoint presentation accompanying the program read, “If you can’t talk about it, don’t do it!”
Turley pointed out in a long-standing relationship, such as marriage, romantic partners can rely on body language more fully.
But “consent applies to every kind of intimacy,” Turley said.
The presentation continued in a more serious vein, addressing the topic of sexual assault. According to Turley and Williams, while kissing someone without their consent might not seem like a big deal, it is sexual assault.
Turley cautioned against making assumptions about whether or not kissing is a “big deal” to someone.
“Never ever think that if (kissing) is not a big deal to you, it’s not a big deal to them,” Turley said. “Be respectful enough to ask (for consent) and respectful enough to accept the answer.”
Turley said the impacts of sexual assault, including unwanted touching and kissing, are severe.
“When it comes right down to it, taking away someone’s agency and inflicting something intimate on them can be very damaging,” Turley said.
In addition to advising students to ask for consent, Turley told students they shouldn’t be afraid to say no. Turley said that while people think saying “no” may come off as mean, it will avoid problems down the road.
The presentation then shifted to how students can “change the status quo” when it comes to consent and sexual assault.
“(Sexual assault) can be avoided if you’re willing to get consent from each other,” Turley told students.
Turley went on to discuss appropriate and inappropriate response to victims of sexual assault. She said it’s important to not participate in “victim blaming.”
“When (sexual assault) happen(s), the responsibility lies with the person who committed the (crime),” Turley said.
Turley advised students to believe people when they say they’ve been victims of sexual assault.
Turley finished the presentation by inviting students to act and educate those around them.
“Every person that we share this message with — that’s how we make a change,” Turley said. “The more we are aware, the less likely attacks are going to happen.”
Below is a slideshow of takeaway tips from the PowerPoint Slideshow “A Candid Look at Consent”. (Tiffany Turley)
Read a recap of Dean Ogles’ devotional here.
For more information about resources and training, visit the BYU Title IX website.