New WLU library art exhibit addresses consent

Photo by Paige Bush
Photo by Paige Bush

On Wednesday night, the Graduate Students Association and the Wilfrid Laurier University Library had their official opening of #ConsentED, an interactive exhibit focused on spreading awareness and starting conversations about consent and sexual assault.

The exhibit is based on the work of former master of social work student, Eleanor McGrath.

Her thesis won an award from the GSA to be presented in the library as part of a partnership focused on presenting Laurier graduate students’ work.

“Every year [the GSA] puts on something called the Researchers of Laurier. People are able to nominate researchers at Laurier and from that process a library exhibit is chosen every year. Eleanor was successfully nominated to Researchers of Laurier by her supervisor [Eliana Suarez],” said Samantha Deeming, president and CEO of the GSA.

The exhibit is being displayed on the main floor of Laurier’s Waterloo campus library until December 21. Visitors can interact with the exhibit through moving panels that are placed on the wall.

On the front of every panel, there is a question and behind there is an answer, such as: “Is there a ‘statute of limitations’ or deadline for reporting sexual assault in Canada?” Followed by the response, “No, you can report sexual assault at any time no matter how long ago the assault was.”

Also featured in the exhibit are headlines from leading Canadian publications chronicling Canada’s ongoing struggle with consent awareness.

“Because consent is a community issue, it’s really important that research doesn’t just sit on a shelf in the academic world, but rather goes out into the community and does something for it,” said McGrath.

The work behind McGrath’s thesis was inspired by interactions with a group of 16-year-old teenagers and her conversations with them about consent and sexual assault.

“They were so grateful that I was having this conversation with them because nobody else does…and to me that was pretty shocking because we know that the average age people become sexually active can be quite young, so if they’re 16 and they’ve never heard of sexual consent before in their lives, for me that’s an issue,” McGrath said.

According to Deeming, attendance at the official opening was estimated as between 60-75. In attendance were co-organizers, Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent, members of the SHORE Centre and Male Allies Against Sexual Violence, among other important figures of the Laurier community.

Events like #ConsentED are part of a movement by groups on campus to create a consent culture. Part of this movement is a push for Laurier to implement a sexual violence policy.

“Laurier as an institution has never had a sexual violence policy before, and so they’ve never outright said we do not condone sexual violence and we will hold perpetrators accountable,” said Karly Rath, co-founder of the Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent, as well as one of the leaders of the #ConsentisGolden campaign.

Consultations for the policy will occur in October before an eventual vote at the Laurier Senate, in November.

Exact details of the consultation process have not been formally decided upon, but an announcement will be made shortly from the Gendered Violence Task Force and related groups.

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