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  • Consent Education as Active Allyship:A Call for Centering Trans and Queer Experiences
  • Leland G. Spencer (bio) and Theresa A. Kulbaga (bio)

The regime of neoliberalism that plagues contemporary university life1 brings with it a commodification of consent education. Universities outsource their legal, pedagogical, and ethical responsibilities to educate students about (what constitutes) consent, sexual assault, and relationship violence. In this forum piece, we suggest that if we wish to function as allies for people who experience gender violence,2 we must (re)consider how we teach students about consent.

Specifically, we call for a radical reorientation of consent education that centers the experiences of queer and trans students, who are particularly vulnerable to gender violence.3 We offer two specific strategies for centering the lives and experiences of queer and trans students in consent education. First, we suggest avoiding isolated, one-off consent "trainings" in favor of meaningful crosscurricular consent education by expert faculty members. Second, we call on campuses to ensure that all consent education is informed by an intersectional feminist, queer, and transcentric critical lens that eschews gender binaries and acknowledges that transphobia and homophobia are central to rape culture on college campuses and in the wider world. Throughout this article, we emphasize that white supremacy, classism, and xenophobia often articulate with homophobia and transphobia in the lives of those who experience gender violence. [End Page 97]

Comprehensive Consent Education

On the whole, research on consent education agrees that students retain more when they learn about consent in community and over time, in contrast to education that students complete once and in isolation.4 Research also illustrates that students sometimes resist learning about gender violence, particularly men who find consent education accusatory. To solve that problem, psychologist John Foubert advocates strongly for sex-segregated training programs, which he calls "The Men's Program" and "The Women's Program," respectively.5 The politics of such sex-segregated trainings trouble us deeply, in particular when trans students experience sexual assault at much higher rates than their cisgender peers—with students of color at the most risk for violence. Where does a genderqueer or nonbinary trans person put themself in Foubert's programs? When universities require students to attend a sex-segregated training, are binary trans students placed in the appropriate training session, or does that depend on their degree of outness, their gender expression, or the extent to which they have progressed through various legal and/or biomedical transition processes? Would these students get to choose, or would they be assigned a room at the direction of an agent of surveillance with a clipboard and an attendance sheet?

Perhaps more obviously and egregiously, an education program that starts with sex segregation presumes as essential a sex binary always attached exactly to a gender binary and tends to ignore nuances related to sexuality (presuming heteronormativity) and race (with whiteness treated as default). Such programming does not acknowledge the existence of any variance from cisnormativity. So trans students find themselves symbolically annihilated whereas cisgender students learn how to intervene to "protect" the cisgender women in their lives. Moreover, such programs typically erase race as it intersects with queer and trans experience. In particular, black and other trans people of color experience the highest rates of sexual violence (as well as partner violence and murder) in the trans community.6 According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), "Acts of hate violence, such as harassment, stalking, vandalism, and physical and sexual assault, are often supported by more socially sanctioned expressions of transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia and are intended to send a message to LGBTQ communities…. Many LGBTQ people also face substantial bias because they belong to other traditionally marginalized groups along other axes of identity such as race, class, incarceration history, immigration status, or ability…. membership in more than one traditionally marginalized community can increase targeting for severe violence."7 Narratives that erase trans [End Page 98] experiences enact additional violence in trans lives. In short, sex segregation is neither a reasonable solution to student resistance nor a student-supportive one.

In contrast to programming that offers surface solutions such as sex segregation, we insist that cultivating a consent...

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