The tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre at the University of Toronto has introduced a new online module to educate students about consent, setting healthy boundaries and the support services available for survivors of sexual violence.
The interactive module, Building a Culture of Consent at the University of Toronto, expands on earlier efforts by the centre while addressing one of 12 recommendations made last year following a tri-annual review of the university’s policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment – in particular, the establishment of “a student-focused education program on healthy boundaries, communication and consent practices within relationships.”
That includes discussing the landscape in which sexual violence can occur, such as on social media.
“The message we’re really trying to have people think about is: What does it mean to check in for consent – and to pause and to think about communication, boundaries and being respectful of personal choices and bodily autonomy,” says Angela Treglia, director of U of T’s Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre.
As part of the online module, students will explore what setting boundaries, practising consent and effective communication to form healthy relationships can look, sound and feel like in practice. Throughout each section, students are encouraged to pause and reflect on what they have learned. It’s not a requirement to complete the module in one session – participants can take as many breaks as they need, with their progress saved on Quercus, the university’s online teaching and learning portal.
“Enhancing and strengthening this module is one of the steps we’re taking to help better educate and support our community,” says Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students. "Our goal is to foster a healthy learning environment across the university’s three campuses where everyone can thrive – so we’re continuously looking for ways to improve our practices and supports."
Nicole McFadyen, assistant director of education and communication at the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre, says consultation played a key role in developing content for the updated module.
“We engaged in literature reviews and evidence-based research and connected with other universities in Ontario and across Canada to learn about what they were doing,” says McFadyen, whose role was created last year as part of the university's commitment to further invest in education efforts focused on sexual violence prevention.
“We also did a student consultation where they shared what they’d like to see in the module. We created a working group to help generate the content.”
She says it was important for the centre to listen to students who were looking for education about consent that was relevant and accessible.
“We’re talking about consent in all the ways you move through the world – everything from asking permission before taking a photo or posting a photo of someone on social media, to really practising those communication skills so that you can identify your boundaries, share them and build very healthy communication skills that are connected to consent.”
Students will also learn about U of T’s policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment and the available tri-campus resources offered through the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre.
The introduction of the new student module is just one of the steps the tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre is taking to educate the university community and support those affected by sexual violence or harassment.
That includes hiring a curriculum development and training co-ordinator, who has been supporting the development of the module and other tri-campus educational tools.
While an update to the existing module for staff, faculty and librarians is coming next year, those who are interested in taking the student module can do so through Quercus, Treglia says.
Treglia encourages students to leave feedback once they’ve completed the module, which is in a pilot phase until Sept. 30. After that, the centre will review the comments and incorporate feedback. The module will be reviewed annually to make sure it stays up to date.
McFadyen says she hopes students find the module’s content empowering, accessible and engaging.
“It’s not fear-based education and so much of it is relevant to all aspects of their lives,” she says. “It really puts them at the centre of self-reflection in ways that are both protective and preventative.”
Treglia, for her part, wants students to know that they are not alone – and that there are many resources available at the university.
“If consent is something they want to learn more about or if they’ve had an experience where they’ve been subjected to harm, there is support available to them.”
How to contact the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre
U of T St. George: Gerstein Science Information Centre (Gerstein Library), Suite B139
U of T Scarborough: Environmental Science and Chemistry Building, EV141
U of T Mississauga: Davis Building, Room 3094G