The decision by the Queen’s University Belfast Students Union (QUBSU) to model their first-ever consent classes on those piloted by Trinity last year is of great significance. Remarkably, it represents the second time that the fledgling programme has been cited with approval by peers, after the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) drew in part on Trinity’s experience when voting for a national model for consent workshops in March.
Furthermore, QUBSU chose to follow Trinity’s template over that of the National Union of Students (NUS), which piloted consent workshops in 20 colleges across the UK last year. In Trinity the workshops were launched with little fanfare, almost entirely independently of the college and with comparatively few of the resources available to NUS. Yet it is the Trinity model that QUBSU found most appropriate to emulate.
Why? Because they were based on professional research, meticulous planning and a year of behind-the-scenes work from union officers. And, when it came to be voted on at TCDSU’s council, the classes were treated as sensible, rational and uncontroversial. The national discussion that followed the union’s decision to introduce them might have boosted the profile of consent classes, but such attention caught the union by surprise.
Consent classes are only going to become more common and more popular in a country currently grappling with abortion rights and better sexual education. And, as colleges begin to take such classes seriously, there will be a model ready to be exported across the country, as designed by TCDSU.
The consent workshops’ success wasn’t simply starting a national conversation, it was proving the naysayers wrong and vindicating the union’s faith in students. And this is why Queen’s have adopted the model – not because it grabbed headlines, but because the Trinity was careful to hone and improve the workshops at every opportunity.
But the success of the workshops is not simply down to a unique lack of student apathy. TCDSU did something other colleges could not – design workshops students responded to and engaged with. And with consent workshops in Queen’s to follow, it seems TCDSU’s influence will continue to grow.