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AskFirst symposium to address sexual assault in a post-secondary context

Collaborative event brings a global perspective to campus
October 12, 2016

Rebecca Sullivan, professor in the department of English, was a key organizer in the AskFirst Symposium, taking place this Friday on campus. 

Keynote speaker Alan McKee, associate dean of research and development at the University of Technology, Sydney. McKee is an expert on entertainment and healthy sexual development, focusing on healthy sexual development and  the effects of pornography on young people.

Keynote speaker Alan McKee, associate dean of research and development at the University of Technology, Sydney. McKee is an expert on entertainment and healthy sexual development, focusing on healthy sexual development and  the effects of pornography on young people.

Keynote speaker Kirsten Jozkowski, associate professor, University of Arkansas. Jozkowski is an expert in sexual consent negotiation and sexual violence prevention among college students.

Keynote speaker Kirsten Jozkowski, associate professor, University of Arkansas. Jozkowski is an expert in sexual consent negotiation and sexual violence prevention among college students.

"How do people engage in sex consensually?”

University of Calgary professor of English Rebecca Sullivan, and her research partner, Jenny Godley, a sociology professor on campus, are building a program of interdisciplinary research to address this very question, through the highest standards of academic rigour.

“Consent to sex has become the cornerstone of sexual violence prevention strategies, but I realized that there was a lot of confusion about what, exactly, that means,” said Sullivan, a professor in the Department of English.

Her solution: Hosting professionals and experts from around the world for a two-day symposium on consent, which will serve as a collaboration between the Women’s Studies program and the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC), as part of the Ask First: Creating a Culture of Consent project.

“I initiated this symposium to share knowledge and best practices among scholars, educators and first responders, so that consent-to-sex training comes from a solid foundation of evidence and experience,” Sullivan noted, adding that there is currently a paucity of data on the understanding and experience of consent with Canadian post-secondary students.

“It is very important that our work be responsive to different cultural and global values around sexuality. That requires a flexible, reflexive approach to this fraught topic,” she said.

On Oct. 14, professionals, scholars and government officials from across the world will address this hot-button topic from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Among those to speak are keynote speakers Alan McKee, associate dean of research and development at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Kirsten Jozkowski, associate professor, University of Arkansas. Jozkowski is an expert in sexual consent negotiation and sexual violence prevention among college students, while McKee is an expert on entertainment and healthy sexual development, focusing on healthy sexual development and the effects of pornography on young people.

The symposium is supported by the University of Calgary Internationalization Grants Committee (UIGC), Research Grants Committee (URGC), and the Department of Philosophy. The symposium is part of a larger three-year sexual assault prevention project that aims to end sexual assault by educating the campus community on consent, respect and communication.

Funded by the Students’ Union Quality Money, the AskFirst project aims to make the University of Calgary an environment where survivors will feel safe reporting sexual assault and harassment, bringing a consent-based approach to sexual assault prevention to ensure that students know assault is never the fault of the victim and occurs when an offender chooses to disregard the victim’s consent.

Nanako Furuyama, program co-ordinator at the WRC, added that the issue of sexual assault on campus is a serious and complex one that universities — and the University of Calgary, in particular — are directing significant efforts to address.

“Consent for any sexual activity is the centrepiece for preventing sexual coercion and unwanted sexual behaviours,” Furuyama said. “We are excited to co-host the symposium to showcase international scholars and advocacy groups, and address the effectiveness of a sexual assault prevention model that is gender-inclusive, sex-positive and consent-based,” she added.

The symposium will be taking place from Friday Oct. 14 to Saturday, Oct. 15. Event is free to all, but early registration is recommended due to limited seating. Learn more information.