Minister launches new four-year Active Consent programme at NUI Galway

Pictured at the launch of NUI Galway’s Active Consent Programme are l-r: Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Megan O’Connor, graduate in drama and theatre performance studies, Rían McKeagney, second year arts student, Clare Austick, Student’s Union VP for welfare & equality, and Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, president of NUI Galway. Photo: Aengus McMahon

Pictured at the launch of NUI Galway’s Active Consent Programme are l-r: Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Megan O’Connor, graduate in drama and theatre performance studies, Rían McKeagney, second year arts student, Clare Austick, Student’s Union VP for welfare & equality, and Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, president of NUI Galway. Photo: Aengus McMahon

NUI Galway researchers who established and rolled out the national SMART Consent programme have just announced a major four-year programme of research and implementation on Active Consent, funded by Lifes2good Foundation in partnership with Galway University Foundation and NUI Galway.

The programme was officially launched by the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD and Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President of NUI Galway last week.

The Active Consent programme will be led by NUI Galway’s SMART Consent team; Dr Pádraig MacNeela, Dr Siobhán O’Higgins, and Kate Dawson from the School of Psychology, and Dr Charlotte McIvor from the Centre for Drama and Theatre Studies.

The programme targets young people from 16-23 years of age in order to promote a positive approach to the important issue of sexual consent and will partner with a range of schools and sporting organisations in the delivery of the Active Consent initiative.

At the event, Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, congratulated Dr Pádraig MacNeela and his team of researchers in securing funding for this programme, Active Consent.

“It is an important step forward and takes a new and original approach, which we need on issues to do with equality and sexual violence. The team are taking on a difficult subject in a positive way that respects young people’s capacity for independence and decision-making.

“Within the Department of Education, I am leading the call for a collective national standard for our higher education institutions on supporting consent and responding to sexual violence on campuses. I am confident that my expert group, of which Dr MacNeela is a member, will be reporting back to me within the next two weeks and we will then be in a position to devise national standards that all of our higher education institutions will have to implement. In conclusion we all have the same mission, to make our institutions safe and respectful places of learning for all. The Active Consent programme will help to put Ireland at the forefront of this progressive action.”

Welcoming the announcement Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, President of NUI Galway, said NUI Galway is committed to ensuring that all students have a safe and positive experience with the university.

“We are also determined to ensure we share our knowledge and expertise in research, practice and the arts to address wider societal challenges. The work of the SMART Consent team is a real example of how our academic scholarship can have a substantive social impact as it contributes in a very practical way to the important work of promoting sexual consent in Ireland. “Through this new Active Consent programme our University, with the generous philanthropic support of Lifes2good, will promote and share new strategies to develop young people and promote positive messaging on active sexual consent.

“I am confident that this Active Consent programme will have a positive impact on the lives and futures of countless young people and I commend Lifes2good Foundation and our partners in education and sporting organisations for their initiative in joining us in this important work. Together we can achieve the culture of respect and equality that we wish for our young people.”

Key aims of the Active Consent programme

To design and implement practical tools and strategies that reach young people from 16-23 years of age with positive messaging on active sexual consent.To promote active consent so that young people feel confident and skilled in communicating with their partners about intimacy.

To reach across three key youth settings (higher education institutions, senior cycle in schools and sports organisations ).

To support young people using multiple implementation methods that will include workshops, drama, training, videos, and online resources.

To promote critical thinking about pornography, supported by an online platform on consent education for students, parents, and teachers.

Dr Pádraig MacNeela said they want to promote a positive, proactive approach to sexual consent, and this funding gives us a unique opportunity to do this over the next four years. There is a unique team behind this programme, from Psychology and Sexual Health Promotion, to Drama and Theatre Studies. We are combining Irish research data with proven youth engagement methods and the creative arts to support a full range of sexual consent messaging.”

Dr Siobhán O’Higgins said: “The opportunity to deliver core messages about consent across all settings will promote joined up, consistent support for positive relationships. The messaging is important, but it is also critical that we work in partnership with institutions and groups in each setting to address their specific needs and opportunities.”

Role of creative arts in consent

Creative arts and communications are at the centre of the team’s work, using drama, film and other methods as communication strategies to deliver statistics, research findings, and messaging on positive sexual health. Dr Charlotte McIvor says: “To change social norms in the long-term, we believe that consent messaging should be delivered in ways that engage, entertain, and educate. Using the creative arts allows us to pose questions as well as give answers, and show the human and emotional dimensions of the grey areas of consent.”

The SMART Consent team have worked in partnership with students and staff at colleges such as NUI Galway, GMIT, DCU, UL, NCAD, among others, to train facilitators and deliver sexual consent workshops. Over the four years of this new programme, the team will establish partnerships across schools and sports settings as well.

The first partnership they have in place for secondary schools is with the WISER Programme (AIDS West ), delivered across approximately 50 primary and secondary schools in the West of Ireland.

James Murphy, Co-founder of Lifes2good Foundation, said that as a graduate of NUI Galway, he welcomes the opportunity to give something back to the University, especially for such an innovative programme such as this.

“In my business life I have found that research pays dividends. I also know that good marketing works.

“This programme is based on research with the ambition to project a message that resonates with as many young people as possible. It will support boys and young men in a non-judgmental way to engage in meaningful reflection that promotes active consent.”

Maria Murphy, Co-founder of Lifes2good Foundation, said that as a mother of four adult children, she is convinced of the need for programmes such as this in Ireland.

“This is a major grant for Lifes2Good Foundation over four years, but it is the start of what we hope will be a national programme taken on by government to impact young people in Ireland for many years to come. The main focus of Lifes2good Foundation is on vulnerable women and children. But we are interested in preventative strategies as well as remedial, and this programme focuses on attitudes and beliefs as a foundation for positive behaviour.”

Lifes2good Foundation and Galway University Foundation are Galway-based foundations. Together they will enable the Active Consent programme to support research and implementation in colleges, schools, and sports clubs across Ireland from 2019-2022. Lifes2good Foundation funding is supported by partial matched funding from NUI Galway.

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