Director of Student Support Services discusses consent education

1 February 2018

Director of Student Support Services Jordi Austin was interviewed on ABC Radio Melbourne about the Consent Matters module and other initiatives the University has introduced to make students, staff and visitors feel safe on campus.

Rafael Epstein interviews Director of Student Support Services Jordi Austin on ABC Radio Melbourne - Tuesday 30 January 2018 at 6.23PM

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You need an enthusiastic yes - that is what consent should be. It’s an online course for students actually at the University of Sydney. Jordi Austin is at Student Support Services there, Jordi thanks for joining us.

JORDI AUSTIN: Oh thank you very much for having me Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Tell me what the online course is and what you hope it’ll do.

JORDI AUSTIN: This is an initiative that we’re really excited to be presenting to our student body. It is one component of a series of initiatives that we’re rolling out at the university. We started late last year and we’re rolling it into 2018. The Consent Matters module has been developed by UK and Australian experts that walks all of our incoming students through consent: what consent is, how you can get it, how you make sure that your partner is behaving appropriately and safely as well as responsibilities and opportunities for bystanders.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And it’s compulsory is it?

JORDI AUSTIN: It’s going to be compulsory ultimately for all of our students, we’re starting with 20,000 first-year commencing students, both in undergraduate and postgraduate programs because we’re wanting to establish a really clear line in the sand around what we think is appropriate behaviour between students. This is coming off the back of some really good research that was done in 2015, 2016 and 2017 by our university but also by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Yeah look, clearly a need for it I guess, I mean I’ve done online training courses and I don’t know how much value do you get out of clicking through some options on a screen? How long does it take the average student to get through it?

JORDI AUSTIN: It will take the average student over an hour. There are a number of different modules that are components of the course that we’re asking them to participate in. There are some fairly challenging questions and some moments where people will really need to sit down and reflect carefully around their own behaviour, and we’re hoping that it acts as a starting point for further conversation.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Is there evidence that something like this makes a difference?

JORDI AUSTIN: This is really early work. Internationally this is work that is really only being trialled in a few places in the last few years so we’re really only at early stages of the learning curve on this. So what we’re doing at Sydney is we’re supplementing this with other work that we know has ongoing impact but needs to be in a more focused way. So we’re partnering with Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia and we’re running very focused Responding with Compassion training, particularly for students in leadership roles so students who are residential advisers within our residential communities, students in leadership roles in clubs and societies. A number if other components of the program that will enable all of our incoming students to at least start the conversation and start thinking about this issue, to then be met with behaviour change and kind of culture change within their clubs and societies and faculties.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: You’re getting a bit of a whack I can see, especially in the newspapers, but there are also people who are specialists in this pointing out that face-to-face stuff is usually far more effective and far more valuable than online courses. Are you convinced that it’s going to make a difference?

JORDI AUSTIN: We’re really optimistic that it will. We certainly see that we have to have a variety of mechanisms of delivery here, so we will have face-to-face training for students in key leadership roles, but because we have 65,000 students on this campus and across all of our campuses, it’s difficult to roll that out straight away to everybody. So we’re hoping there will be ripple effects and students themselves, our student leaders are really passionate about drawing a line in the sand and saying that they will only accept certain types of behaviour within their communities and in their learning environments, and we believe that that will set a really healthy culture tone. Other students will come in from overseas who perhaps have never done any of this- who have never discussed sexual relationships with their parents or with their peers, so for some of those students this will be the first time that they’re having this conversation; for other students this is going to be be building upon other conversations that they’ve had in their school or home or relationship environments.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Thanks for your time.

JORDI AUSTIN: Thank you very much.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Jordi Austin from Student Support Services, University of Sydney. Compulsory online course for students. Who knows maybe something like that’ll spread to the other universities.