When was the last time you asked permission before hugging someone, posting a photo of your friends online, or petting a neighbour’s dog? During the pandemic, masking requirements and stickers on the ground made personal boundaries the law. Now that restrictions have been lifted, UW’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) is working to demystify the role consent plays in our daily interactions — beyond the bedroom.
SVPRO’s project coordinator Stacey Jacobs believes that changing consent culture on campus requires a back-to-basics approach. The behaviours that influence the way we show up in our intimate relationships, show up in all of our relationships — whether it is between friends, coworkers, or family members. She says she wants to help people understand how their actions impact others — both positively and negatively, especially when it comes to setting and respecting boundaries.
“We need to learn to set our own boundaries and think through what those boundaries are,” Jacobs says. “Sometimes, we’re not 100 per cent certain — maybe something annoys us or upsets us, and we need to stop and think, okay, why am I upset about that? And it’s often because someone has crossed a boundary.”
Jacobs says her office often works with students to resolve conflicts with roommates through open, honest communication. She says conversations about boundaries should happen early in any relationship dynamic and involve asking many questions.
“Questions like, ‘Hey, what time do you get up in the morning? I get up really early — do you mind if I use the bathroom first?’ … or asking about things like food and who gets what spot in the refrigerator or the cupboards,” she says. “Just asking those questions shows that you care about the other person’s needs and wants.”
The other piece is letting people know if a boundary has changed — just because you were okay with something at one point does not mean you have to be fine with it forever. Firmly restate your position if others push you, says Jacobs, and respect others when they say ‘No.’
“We live in a world where people will pressure and push and pester people until they change their minds,” she says. “But when someone gets worn down over time because someone keeps pushing them, that’s not true consent.”
This concept applies to sexual interactions but also to something as simple as convincing a friend to go to a party when they’d rather stay home. It becomes about our needs and wants versus theirs, says Jacobs. “When you disregard people’s needs, boundaries, and autonomy, you’re choosing to act in your own self-interest.”
A large part of consent culture is simply pausing to consider what it is like in someone else’s shoes — acknowledging your power and privilege in different spaces — and looking for ways to help other people feel safe to share their thoughts and say ‘No’ if necessary.
“Think through, where do I have more power, and where do I have less?” Jacobs explains. “What can I do as someone who has more power to ensure people who have less power feel comfortable …or that their contributions are welcome.”
This type of consideration may take more effort, but it can be as simple as the difference between a period or a smiley emoji in a text message or asking someone how their day is going.
“I think we get in those habits of just being really direct. So instead of sending the text message that says, ‘I’m on my way,’ you could be like, ‘Good morning! I hope you’re having a good day! I’m on my way to pick you up :)’” Jacobs says. “It’s not exactly consent, but it’s all related. It’s just treating each other well and with respect and in a positive way too.”
The way we show up has a ripple effect on everyone around us, says Jacobs. When we avoid pressuring others or putting them in situations they didn’t consent to, we empower each other and give people the freedom to make decisions confidently.
“We have to unlearn some of our old habits, and relearn how we can communicate and interact in more consensual ways,” she says. “It is sometimes extra work to be thinking through the needs of somebody else … but the more safe and supported and comfortable everyone feels, the more safe, comfortable, and supported you feel as well.”
SVPRO is not a crisis or walk-in service. If your need is non-urgent, staff can be reached at email@example.com. SVPRO does not automatically initiate an investigation.
For a full list of Consent Week events, visit https://uwaterloo.ca/sexual-violence-prevention-response-office/consent-week
Easy Ways to Practice Consent
- When planning events or activities with friends, family, or a partner, ask for their input ahead of time instead of telling them what is happening. Ask about dietary preferences and budget restrictions before choosing a restaurant or planning an outing.
- Determine how financial matters will be split ahead of time, whether it is groceries, concert tickets, or utility bills.
- Ask permission before taking or posting photos or videos
- Ask before touching (hugging, kissing, etc.) — even in non-sexual situations
- Do not force people — even close friends or partners — to discuss subjects they are uncomfortable with or have said they do not want to talk about.
- Do not share someone else’s personal information; i.e., a decision to quit a job, news about an engagement or pregnancy, information about gender, pronouns, or sexual orientation, details about a personal conflict or situation they are involved in, etc.
- Do not pressure people to accept a gift, service, or invitation they did not ask for. Provide gift receipts and do not expect people to eat something just because you made it. Message people before stopping by or schedule time to talk on the phone instead of just calling or showing up.