By Francesca Handy
As the ‘More Than Yes’ campaign spreads internationally, campaign coordinator Allison Sparling says that all students need to be introduced to the term ‘enthusiastic consent’ because it voices that “consent is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ light switch”.
The campaign was launched by StudentsNS (Students Nova Scotia) at the end of January in response to Anne Martell’s independent report ‘Student Safety in Nova Scotia: A Review of Student Union Policies and Practices to Prevent Sexual Violence’. Sparling said that Martell’s recommendations indicated a need for a clearer definition of consent.
“The common theme [in the recommendations] was that consent is often poorly understood and students don’t understand what consent means in different situations,” says Sparling. “We wanted a campaign to address that.”
The campaign explains the importance of ‘enthusiastic consent’, a term popularized by writer and activist Jaclyn Friedman. The phrase suggests that consent goes beyond the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and is actively and certainly expressed throughout the entire interaction.
“It’s a conversation that’s more than a two or three letter word,” says Sparling. “If it’s not clear, then it’s not there and it’s a good idea to either further the conversation or step away.”
StudentsNS is sending the ‘More Than Yes’ message to the student body through posters, stickers for condoms, and social media. Executive director Jonathan Williams, says the campaign received a total of $25, 000 from the provincial government, which includes $10, 700 in funding for the sexual assault prevention review and $5, 500 to support the review’s recommendations.
Sparling attributes some of the campaign’s success to the increased budget, which allowed StudentsNS to hire Extreme Group to advertise the campaign.
“Extreme Group were able to give it the flashing, interesting, conversations starting tag lines that really made it pop and got us international media coverage,” says Sparling. “It’s definitely been the most successful campaign [StudentsNS has done].”
Sparling says that through individual student unions, Facebook will allow the ‘More Than Yes’ campaign’s message to reach students at high risk times, such as Friday nights or Frosh Week.
“We can use Facebook ads to target specific schools and make sure that this ad about consent is coming up in student news feeds so that it’s always on their minds,” says Sparling. “Even if they’re not thinking about it in a deep way at least the word consent is there and it will hopefully impact their behaviour.”
The campaign has gone beyond the originally involved student unions to colleges and high schools throughout the province. By request, StudentsNS has allowed the posters to be used in several international Universities, including in the United States and Malaysia.
“Although the behaviours that we’re targeting are happening on campus, we wanted something that would extend beyond campus,” says Sparling. “We wanted people in high school who are coming to university and people at every level to be getting this message about consent.”
Through the campaign’s website morethanyes.ca students can access support, resources for learning about consent, and other information on sexual or domestic violence. Sparling says the campaign has created a dialogue about consent that is clearing up some misconceptions.
“We’ve received really overwhelmingly positive feedback directed to us,” says Sparling. “I think it’s opening up some conversations that haven’t been being had.”