Clark University student presents sexual consent education program at international conference

April 20, 2016

Clark University graduate student Sarah Dys, from Dracut, presented "Campus Consent: For Students, By Students" at the annual End Violence Against Women International Conference in Washington, D.C., March 21-24.

As co-founder of Consenting Communities, Clark’s mandatory orientation educational program, Dys was selected to present at the conference, where she focused on sexual consent education at Clark, enabled through student and administrative partnerships. Through discussions and a poster presentation, Dys shared how “practical, tool-based programs can actually show students what consent can look like, giving them the opportunity to practice it.”

The Consenting Communities program was developed through the partnership of Clark students, faculty and administration. In 2014, Dys '15, MPA '16 and Sarah Philbrick '15, MsGIS '16 approached Tim St. John, director of student leadership and programming, about enhancing consent-based education given to incoming students at Week One orientation, organized through Cark’s  CAVE program. Dys and Philbrick were joined by then orientation coordinator Madeleine Friga '15, MA/CDP '16. The three formed the initial Clark consent team and co-wrote the program currently under review for copyright. Support and direction came from the Dean of Students office as well as research associate professors of psychology Kathleen Palm Reed and Denise Hines.

End Violence Against Women International Conference was attended by around 2,000 people, representing all 50 states and 14 different countries. “I had the opportunity to meet so many people who were fascinated at this approach to consent-based learning,” said Dys. “The main themes of the conference were engaging men and boys, but workshops and presentations also presented on dealing with sexual violence from a law enforcement, journalism, prosecution, and advocacy standpoint.”

Also present at the conference was Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke on the Violence Against Women Act that he formulated and was passed in 1994. “We are lucky to have a VP who is so passionate about these issues, and does everything in his power to fight for survivors,” said Dys.  

Dys is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration through Clark’s accelerated 5th-year degree program. She received a B.A. in psychology at Clark in 2015.

Looking forward, Dys hopes to lead focus groups and evaluate how the consent programs has affected Clark.

“If you want to change the behavior of a population, you can't just say your piece and be done with it,” Dys said. “Clark needs to be saturated at all levels with information and education on consent, healthy relationships, and violence prevention.” 

Dys’ conference trip was sponsored through a Department of Justice grant administered through CAVE. 

The CAVE program provides comprehensive education to the Clark community on issues related to dating violence, sexual assault, consent, stalking, harassment and being an active bystander. This is done through a variety of mandatory educational program. Consenting Communities is one such program. It was first implemented in 2014 and allows incoming students to explore the topic of consent during their Week One orientation program. It is currently in the process of being copyrighted for continued use by the University.