Student groups aim to promote need for sexual consent, foster awareness

Audrey Zhang

Students played games, won flash tattoos, participated in a silent auction and discussed sexual consent during Voices Against Violence’s annual ConsentFest festival Thursday. 

The student organization teamed up with other campus groups to educate the student body on consent-related issues and donated the proceeds to VAV Survivor’s Emergency Fund, which benefits student survivors of sexual or relationship violence. VAV member Jackson Miller said ConsentFest was intended to start a dialogue on campus about the importance of consent. 

“ConsentFest is a festival to celebrate consent,” said Miller, an archaeology senior. “It’s trying to get the UT community to learn about consent — what consent is, how you ask for consent, and ways to be safe. I realized how important it is that students engage with these ideas, because a lot of people did not learn about consent in high school.”

Miller said the way “consent” is defined can involve a few different factors.

“VAV has a specific definition for consent,” Miller said. “You need to make sure that you’re sober, that you can say no. [We want students to make sure] it’s an enthusiastic yes when they can say no.”

Managing information systems senior Afshad Dholakia, who volunteered at the event, said consent awareness is important because of the damaging nature of sexual assault.

“[Sexual violence] should be noted as a problem if there are only one or two cases, or if there are hundreds of cases,” Dholakia said. “Because at the end of the day, malicious acts are having a negative impact on someone’s life. Not only is their experience at UT getting tarnished, but their lives are.”

Raising awareness and educating students could make a real difference at the University because of its large party culture, Dholakia said. 

“Sometimes education in and of itself may not stop someone from doing something wrong, but we’re hoping that if this is on people’s minds, they will take it into consideration when making decisions,” Dholakia said. “We can work against this. We can work to solve this problem and help people.”

Mechanical engineering senior Paige McKenzie said she found the festival an open, supportive environment.

“I’m glad they’re doing this because it’s a really important issue,” McKenzie said. “This is a really safe space to come and talk about these issues. They’re open and being really nice, so it’s good that it’s in a public place and you can come and ask questions and have all this material available to you.”