Lauren Matt '18 was the 2017 receipient of the Alice Drum Summer Research Award in Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies. She is a Sociology major and a Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies minor. In this story she reflects on her summer research.
The Alice Drum Summer Research Award provided me with an invaluable opportunity to pursue consent education research through an international and multicultural lens. Originally I proposed to use the award for a three-week period at Rutgers, studying curricula development processes in the Netherlands with a focus on consent education. As the summer progressed, my plans strayed from the initial proposal, instead producing a more internationally comprehensive experience.
While corresponding about Rutgers, Yuri Ohlrichs, my Netherlands contact, suggest that if possible I should use grant funding to attend the World Association of Sexual Health biannual conference in Prague. The conference had multiple panels devoted to Sex Education and many researchers and organizations who focused on consent, making it an unique opportunity while still aligning with the original proposal. I attended the four-day conference in Prague, from May 28th – the 31st, and still feel energized by the experience. Being surrounded by an international community of intellectual change makers who all share the similar goal of creating a more sexually inclusive and safer world felt powerful. The conference exposed me to a myriad of new ideas and ways of thinking about sex and consent education in society at large.
At WAS I met a man named Herman Ormel, a Gender and Reproductive Health specialist who works for an Amsterdam based NGO called KIT International, which works on international public health policy. Following the conference I spent a week in Amsterdam, spending time with Yuri at Rutgers and meeting up with Herman, meeting and talking to some of his fellow KIT colleagues.
At the end of the WAS conference I met Rayka Kumru, a Turkish Sexologist who was one of two presenters in the conference with a Sociology background. Eager to gain insight as to how she uses a sociological lens in a sexual health field, and how she approaches promoting safe sex in Turkey, an increasingly religious country with recent political upheaval, I asked Rayka if she had time to speak privately before the end of the conference. Rayka and I shortly realized that we share the same interest of consent education, and consequently, Rayka had the goal of producing material relating to consent over the course of the next two months. Aware of my award and happy to have an other sociological brain on board, Rayka offered for me to spend a month with her in Istanbul, learning about how she is able to work in a nation where Sex Education is contested, as well as work together to produce a teaching tool that can be used to clearly and simply communicate ideas about consent.
With my time in the Netherlands shortened to a week, I was able to use the remaining grant funding to live and work in Istanbul for one month. Rayka and I began and are continuing to work on a bystander intervention teaching tool called See It, Be It. The tool itself is a simple diagram (picture and description included below) and has the following goals; to change perceptions of consent by recognizing it as a continual process which occurs in all aspects of daily life, making us all witnesses to both consensual and non consensual acts every day; therefore everyone has the potential to be an active bystander, and intervention can be simple and impactful. The ultimate goal is to create a change in culture, working towards a culture of consent; just as rape culture depends on norms and transgressions outside of sexual activity, so does promoting a culture in which consent is normalized, the standard of behavior, and expected.
In a more chronological summary, I used the ADSRA to attend the World Association of Sexual Health Conference in Prague, to fly from Prague to Amsterdam and spend a week interviewing people from two organizations about different aspects of consent, and then spent a month working with Rakya in Istanbul. The money covered all of my airfare (5 fights in total), my WAS Conference ticket, all of my housing between three countries (a mixture of hostels and renting an apartment room in Istanbul), and some food expenses.
What I learned is divided into two main categories: comprehensive consent education and how to make large scale change. For the last few years, I have been consumed by the question of how to effectively normalize consent, and this summer exposed a major flaw in my thinking, which was viewing consent as an isolated issue. Prior to this experience, I have been determined to teach consent as an isolated topic, convinced that if language of consent is normalized among school aged children, there could be real change in sexual assault rates nation wide. However, to effectively engrain consent into the culture of a society, I learned that you must consider all aspects of that society which inform the power dynamics that produce non consensual acts. Consent cannot be taught in isolation as a concept itself, but instead must be part of a larger discussion of the interworkings of a culture at hand. For example, consent cannot be comprehensively understood or practiced without discussing masculinity and its expectations and consequences, ideals and norms surrounding perception of sex, gender norms/ inequalities, racial dynamics, or without doing identity work and having some understanding of where you as an individual fit into this society, and how these systems affect your experience. Therefore, consent education must be culturally specific and comprehensive.
Following this approach to consent education, though Rutgers has many programs and curricula devoted explicitly to consent, they also weave aspects of consent through most of their lessons relating to the issues above. Rayka also believes in this approach to promoting consent, and as a result of having virtually no institutional support (where as the Netherlands’ government supports and funds many of Rutgers programming) Rayka uses any talk, lesson plan, or qualm that a client brigs up as an avenue to discuss consent. As part of our work together, Rayka asked me to write a Rationale for Consent document which argued for the need of consent education from health, education, human rights, technology, and cultural perspectives, intentionally excluding sex ed focused reasoning, illustrating this comprehensive approach. Working towards normalizing and promoting consent involves immense cultural change, making discussing of consent often lead to discussing effective change making.
Rayka, Herman, and Yuri all agreed that in order to make meaningful change, grassroots efforts must be combined with structural support. Though outside organizations can provide aid, ideas for progress need to come from within members of a community and be accompanied by a structural backbone, often the law, to make them sustainable. Therefore, language, especially legal language, is highly important in this process, as well as strong communication between outside organizations and internal community members. I am greatly appreciative and honored to have been the recipient of this award, allowing me to travel the world, deepen my understanding of important issues, and become a more knowledgeable student and individual.
"The Alice Drum Summer Research Award provided me with an invaluable opportunity to pursue consent education research through an international and multicultural lens."