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Walker Bristol | Notes From the underclass | Fostering consent

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 22:02

T he piercing Boston cold didn’t stop them: a cluster of vigilantes were rallying cheerfully alongside the buses shuttling people to Winter Bash, dancing and singing and belting, “Consent is sexy — date rape is not!”

The Consent Culture Network (CCN), a coalition of student leaders and progressive activists who fervently support gender equality, has in the last few months spearheaded a valiant campaign against sexual assault and rape culture on campus. They’ve hosted workshops for social groups, they’ve distributed the popular zine “Learning Good Consent” and on Feb. 1 they engaged in a direct−action rally and bystander intervention program to encourage consensual sex at one of Tufts’ biggest and most drunkenly disordered school−sponsored events.

“We were a group of friends seeking to illuminate the depth of our peoples’ burdened minds,” said freshman Katrina Dzyak. Dzyak protested at the bus stop outside Aidekman along with almost two dozen other activists, singing pop song remixes and passing out condom−grams (contraceptives latched onto cardstock with a poetic illumination of what is consent and what isn’t). The response of passers−by was overwhelmingly positive — as Dzyak recalled, “we exhumed the power of passion, and hopefully conveyed a message abundant in transformatory content.”

The CCN organizers originally planned to engage the rally as a flash mob among the masses waiting inside the building for the buses, but ran into administrative trouble at the scene. Sophomore Kumar Ramanathan explained that “The Office of Campus Life didn’t appreciate our presence and wouldn’t let us into Aidekman proper.” Regrouping, the rally strategically positioned themselves between the building’s exit and the bus stop, breaking into song and dance — consent−centric rewritings of Macklemore and Carly Rae Jepsen — whenever ticket−holders made the trek. Despite having blocked CCN’s entrance earlier, the security guards at the site were more or less hands−off during the action. “They seemed to enjoy our singing, and commended us on our message,” Ramanathan said.

The word “protest” may be a suspect label — the rally was intentionally pro and positive, not anti or negative. Students go to Winter Bash for fun and relief. The CCN was there to facilitate that, not hinder it −− to protect against the oppression of and those who might be taken advantage of whose experience could be devastating. It was less a “protest” of rape culture and more a celebration of consent and good, safe sex. Leah Muskin−Pierret considered it to be enthusiastic and lively, but nevertheless earnest and meaningful: “We had compassion for our fellow Jumbos, who deserved a exhilarating night, not a nightmarish one.”

At the Bash itself, activists clad in “Got Consent?” and “Consent is Sexy” shirts stuck around to answer questions about consent and keep an eye out for dangerous behavior. The CCN’s mere presence was intended to be a strong influence on the party’s atmosphere. Rather than having little more than hotel security — busy enough dealing with the several hospitalizations — to offer them a feeling of safety, people saw friendly faces chilling nearby with humble, positive messages on their chests. They could enjoy their night with fears of assault at least a bit subverted.

But Winter Bash isn’t the only event where such a showing is needed, and past mistakes need to inspire future action. CCN heard the voices of the oppressed — the violated, the raped, the silenced — and took action where they’re most subverted. “Fall Ball is a secure, high−detail event, and yet this year I know numerous people who were touched, grabbed and even further violated without their consent,” said CCN member CJ Ghanny. “And we sure as hell weren’t going to let that happen again at Winter Bash.”


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