Giving Consent centre stage at York’s orientation day — Making Connections

York University’s Centre for Human Rights (CHR) has increased staff and educational awareness activities in response to a growing demand for its services
York University’s Centre for Human Rights (CHR) has increased staff and educational awareness activities in response to a growing demand for its services

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the University will hold its annual You Had Me at Consent talk as part of Making Connections Day – the kick-off to York U’s student orientation week. Thousands of students will have the opportunity to hear from keynote speakers Rachel Griffin and Joshua Phillips on the subject of gender-based violence and popular culture.

The event will take place at 1pm and 6pm at the Rexall Centre on York’s Keele campus.

Griffin and Phillips, who met at Central Michigan University as members of Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates, joined forces in 2009 and have been engaging audiences across North America ever since with their analysis of popular culture and its relation to sexual violence.

Both Griffin and Phillips believe that popular culture (music, movies, television shows, websites, sports etc.) is crucial to understanding sexual violence, for it is the medium through which most of us learn lessons about how the world works, often without even realizing it. Although we tend to think that popular culture is simply entertainment – a song, for instance, is just a song – Griffin and Phillips argue that it is not as innocent as it seems. Popular culture is always teaching us about how we should act and behave towards one another.

These messages can be interpreted as representing truths about the world, rather than simply one perspective among many. Griffin and Phillips encourage students to start reflecting upon and actively engaging with the messages being delivered instead of taking them at face value and absorbing them. If students can begin to deconstruct popular culture, then they can start to understand the nature of gender dynamics and sexual violence. In this way, popular culture becomes a perfect vehicle for broader discussions about power, privilege and oppression.

During Tuesday’s talk, Griffins and Phillips will draw connections between popular culture and violence, and pose questions to the audience to entice critical thinking about sexual violence, its roots and how we can all take steps to create a safe space on campus and beyond. The messages conveyed to students in the You Had Me at Consent talk reinforce the importance of York U’s values of respect, inclusion and safety.

While Griffin and Phillips have developed a reputation for the talks they have delivered across the continent on gender-based violence, this is far from the only work they do in this area. Griffin is an assistant professor of communications, Africana studies, as well as women, gender and sexuality studies at Southern Illinois University. There, her research focuses on race, gender and gender-based violence, popular culture and sport. Phillips is a PhD candidate in speech communication at Southern Illinois University. He published the book 1,800 Miles about a journey he and a group called the East Coast Walkers took on foot from Miami to Boston to foster awareness about sexual violence.

The concern over and work against sexual violence is far from an abstraction for Griffin and Phillips. Griffin was inspired to pursue her work in sexual violence advocacy by her own experiences as a survivor. Phillips found his calling as a consequence of his struggles to provide support for a high-school partner who was assaulted.

Griffin and Phillips are passionate about their approach to sexual violence. For Griffin, analyses of gender-based violence and patriarchy must always remain attentive to the fact that experiences with gender and violence are not universal. Race, class, sexuality and ability, amongst other factors, affect how people experience sexual violence and gender oppression, and this must be acknowledged through the analysis of it and how we support survivors.

For Phillips, two key assumptions underlie his philosophy. First, sexual violence is historically and systemically rooted in perceptions of how we are taught to interact with one another through traditional roles and popular culture messages about gendered bodies. Secondly, he acknowledges that sexual violence happens more frequently to females and is perpetrated more frequently by males, and that “As a male who is not a survivor of sexual violence, I have zero experience with understanding what it is like to go through a sexually violent attack, nor do I understand what it is like to live with the fear of feeling targeted or threatened by sexual violence because of my gender.”

He contends that it is the responsibility of men to seek guidance from women in the struggle to end sexual violence, to engage in critical dialogue and to educate themselves on the issues. To take a leadership role would be to simply reproduce patriarchal dynamics, but this does not mean that men should become “less vocal, less assertive and less proactive… especially when it comes to educating other men and voicing their opposition about sexualized and objectifying images in our culture.”

For more information, visit the Centre for Human Rights website.

Submitted by the Centre for Human Rights