Defining Consent: Education About Sexual Assault Should Be in the Curriculum

Jenna Schulman and Lucy Walker

In the past few weeks, sexual assault has become a widely discussed topic throughout the GDS community. With a recent case of sexual assault reported at Sidwell and heated discussion about sexual assault arising at our own school, the question of how GDS will handle further conversations about consent is becoming a pressing issue.

Only recently has the conversation surrounding consent, sexual assault, and rape turned from a “back alley” discussion to being at the forefront of the community. For GDS students, improved sex education seems to be the priority. How can we become more proactive in regards to educating about prevention?

In order to combat the issue of sexual assent it is important to start teaching consent to students at a young age. Education leads to awareness which in turn will hopefully lead to prevention and support for victims. “We haven’t really been educated that much about [sexual assault]. All we know is that it’s a bad thing,” said freshman Jimmy Zhang. Zhang is not the only one who feels this way. Many students within the GDS community feel as though they have received little to no education regarding consent and sexual assault. Although recently discussions have increased as a result of the school-wide assemblies in the past months, many still feel that the discussions so far haven’t been effective. “We watched a couple videos [in a seminar on consent], which were pretty educational, but it’s fairly generic,” said junior Olivia Cong. “There are a lot of blurry lines when it comes to sexual assault…I don’t think you can answer that from a video. There’s still a lot that needs to be said,” she continued.

GDS has provided some education for students by hiring experts to talk to groups at GDS including FMG (GDS’s non-male affinity group) and the senior class about consent. However, these talks were not given to the whole GDS community and therefore many still need this education. Additionally, educators on healthy relationships were brought in to talk to PE classes. Students were taught about what specifically constituted as abuse and what the foundation of a healthy relationship looks like.

Students in the lower and middle school are taught sex education starting in fourth grade, and continue to learn as they attend health classes in the middle school. However, the education they receive doesn’t cover relationships, consent, or sexual assault. As it is, GDS’s sex education curriculum merely scrapes the surface of a much deeper conversation. Consent and sexual assault is a topic that needs to be discussed in depth.

Not only does there need to be an increase in education given, the quality of these discussions also must improve. A video played during a monday morning meeting comparing sexual assault to tea, though funny, made light of a serious issue. Sophomore Jacob Gaba said “I think the seminar classes are the best shot [for education on this subject], because…you’re learning about it as a freshman, and then you have the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice for the rest of high school.”

Amy Killy, the school’s guidance counselor of nine years, believes that we should start education on relationships from an early age. Teaching simple concepts, such as respecting personal space and learning that “no means no,” can go a long way when relationships begin to change as students get older. Killy mentioned that she thought that discussion about healthy relationships and consent were often ignored or overlooked. She noted that “the administration is in the process of trying to find a consultant who will then come in and look at our entire health and wellness program, and help us assess and evaluate what is working and what is not, and what we need to do to be able to move forward.”

She also noted that “change is slow and so it is not fast enough for anybody who is here…because the generation is four years, you guys are out before things really change.” However, this means that we have to begin changing our community for those yet to come.

Consent and sexual assault may be uncomfortable to discuss and this can make the issue even more challenging to combat. Yet part of why we are uncomfortable talking about consent and sexual assault is because we are unfamiliar with them in a formal, educational setting. Moving forward as a community, it is imperative that we provide more education on consent and sexual assault starting in 9th grade and continuing throughout our four years here. As Killy put it, “it is about what you leave for the generation behind you.”

Consent and sexual assault can not be an optional part of a student’s education–a lunch advertised by a flier or a one time assembly. We need a structured curriculum surrounding these topics because we all need to be aware of these issues. It’s time to change the culture of consent and sexual assault at GDS.