This year, the University of York’s first year students were made to attend a mandatory fire safety talk followed by a non-compulsory discussion on the ways to prevent, intervene, and report any incidents of sexual assault and rape on campus.
A male third-year undergraduate student named Ben Froughi impersonated a member of university staff, and encouraged fellow freshers to boycott the sexual consent talk because he claimed it was “patronising”. He also distributed flyers, which had the university’s official logo on it, that told first years that the consent talk was “optional” and any attendees were “free to leave after the fire safety talk” according to Nouse, the University of York’s student newspaper.
Even though the event organisers informed the attendees at the start of the event that the fire safety talk was compulsory but the sexual consent talk was not, Mr. Froughi distributed his flyer and urged the freshers to boycott the sexual consent talk.
York university officials told Mr. Froughi that he was not allowed to distribute any material with the university’s official logo on it, but that did not stop him; he cut off the top part of the flyers that bore the university logo and continued handing them out to students. It is reported that around a quarter of the students who attended the fire safety talk walked out before the sexual assault segment.
Nouse quoted Mr. Froughi as saying, “consent talks are patronising; if students really need lessons in how to say yes or no then they should not be at university. [These type of discussions] propagate the backward message that all women are potential victims and all men potential rapists.”
Mia Chaudhuri-Julyan and Lucy Robinson, the University of York’s Women’s Officers who had arranged the sexual assault segment, said that they were accepting of Mr. Froughi’s “right to an opinion” but did not appreciate his attempts to pose as a staff member. They said that his behaviour led to a compromising of students’ safety in Mr. Froughi’s “attempt to prevent new students receiving basic safety information”.
A joint statement by both the Women’s Officers was released to Nouse: “The talks were gender neutral, short and solution based. They were accessible to all and actively invited questions and discussion”.
Dom Smithies, York’s Welfare Officer, said: “Sexual violence is, sadly, a reality. Putting in place measures to ensure students are better informed to both prevent it and to highlight the support and services that are available is the right thing to do”.
Mr. Smithies also said that the feedback he received from the consent talk was “overwhelmingly positive”, and many students later stated that attendance should have been made compulsory for all freshers. He also added, “the safety and well being of all York students is in everyone’s interest”.