The University of York introduced its first sexual consent talks this term in response to a nationwide clampdown on sexual harassment on campus / Dick Davies

'Consent talks are patronising', one student argued, 'if students really need lessons in how to say yes or no then they should not be at university'

Students in York attending the university’s first ever sexual consent classes have staged a walkout, protesting they were being “patronised” unfairly.

As part of a nationwide effort to combat sexual violence on campus, York University women’s officers spoke to 5000 new students on issues regarding sex, relationships and consent.

Although all new students were expected to attend, the consent classes were voluntary, the university said.

Of the students who attended the first session, around a quarter were said to have walked out in protest.

One campus activist Ben Froughi, a third-year accounting student, stood outside some of the sessions handing out flyers encouraging students to boycott the sessions.

He told Nouse, York University's student media outlet: "Consent talks are patronising, If students really need lessons in how to say yes or no then they should not be at university.

"There is no correct way to negotiate getting someone into bed with you. In suggesting that there is, consent talks encourage women to interpret sexual experiences that have not been preceded by a lengthy, formal and sober contractual discussion as rape.

"Consent talks propagate the backward message that all women are potential victims and all men potential rapists."

His comments echo complaints made by University of Warwick student George Lawson, who rejected an invitation to a sexual consent workshop on campus last year arguing that he “didn’t look like a rapist”.

York womens’ officers Mia Chaudhuri-Julyan and Lucy Robinson said the boycotting behaviour compromised student safety, but that the majority of students had reacted well to the talks.

Their sessions followed compulsory briefings on health and fire safety, and were designed to be gender neutral, the student officers said.

The move follows initiatives across the UK started by the National Union of Students to clamp down on the “rape culture” reported to be growing on campuses.

NUS guidelines state that universities have a duty to tell freshers the legal definitions of rape and sexual assault, citing wolf-whistles, heckling and jokes about rape as common examples of harassment.

Student unions across the country have been criticised for failing to address such complaints on campus.

Commenting on the issue in previous weeks, NUS Women’s Officer Hareem Ghani said: “NUS Womens Campaign have been campaigning relentlessly on the issue of sexual harassment and assault for many years.

“It is vital that more pressure is placed on institutions to implement robust policies and procedures that ensure students can report an incident of sexual harassment or assault by another student or member of staff and be supported through the process.

“Decisive cross-institutional action is needed to ensure that sexual violence is no longer tolerated at universities and colleges.” 

According to NUS figures, one in five students will experience some form of sexual harassment during their first week of term.

York University Student Union said its consent talks came in response to a growing demand from students to address these issues.

A spokesperson said: “Sex can be difficult to talk about; the talks will help our students develop their understanding of consent, boundaries and cultural awareness in a positive and informative environment.

"We hope that they will challenge stigma and help students to establish healthy relationships and clear boundaries.”