SERIES: Make consent: sober

Photo courtesy of Griffith University | A&E Editor Riley Head continues her series on consent.

Most first-time college hook ups seem to begin in the same way: a bar, a house party or a pregame. Someone hands you a beer, you buy a mixed drink — and things just get better from there. From my experience, when you’re looking to hook up with someone, you go into the event with a selected “target,” like that cute person in your class that you’ve been Snapchatting or the random person you see in the caf who keeps mysteriously liking your Instagram pictures at odd hours of the night. And there’s nothing wrong with a little liquid courage. We’ve all needed it at some point. But where is the line where liquid courage blocks someone’s ability to coherently consent?

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the majority of assaults on college campuses involve alcohol. While the “Brock Turner” narrative of being assaulted by a perfect stranger is very much founded in truth, it doesn’t the majority of assaults that occur on Xavier’s campus. According to Xavier’s Title IX coordinator, Kate Lawson, the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances.

So back to that person you were flirting with at the party. How are either of you supposed to know the other’s limits around alcohol? If it’s a situation where people are just meeting or hanging out for the first time, there’s not really space for a conversation about what your individual definitions of consent look like. This gray area is where problems happen. Flirting all night turns into consent. Making out and then passing out turns into consent.

And then there’s the whole area of impaired consent inside relationships. If you’ve been dating for six months? If you’ve had sex before? If you like drinking together and then hooking up? In these situation there can be less confusion because there is time and space for a conversation before a problem rises. But there is still plenty of room for missed signals and assault within relationships.

I don’t think that people at Xavier are bad. I genuinely believe that if anyone saw a Brock Turner situation going on outside a party they would try to intervene. But what would you do if you saw a seemingly sober guy helping a blacked out girl into the back of an Uber? Would you try to intervene or just assume he is her boyfriend? There can be so much confusion when it comes to hookup culture on college campuses, and adding alcohol into the mix makes it even worse. We are scared to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, but the safety of our peers must come before an awkward interaction in the caf.

I am not saying that questioning everyone’s motives when helping another drunk person is the solution, but it is at least a start. We have to prioritize the safety of the people around us as well as our own. No matter the situation, having some clear boundaries and safety measures are important. My friends and I have a pact now that we will not allow each other to leave with someone if they have been drinking. I am lucky because I am able to surround myself with people who truly care for me and my safety. I know that not everyone has that support system and sometimes situations can arise when no one is quite sure what to do.

These questions are complex, and I realize that this piece literally gave no answers or clear paths forward. I have also had to leave out so many other complex layers that make this issue as complex as it is. But all of these issues are things that we need to be aware of and talk to each other about. Communicating with each other when we’re in a safe and sober setting is the only way that the narrative will begin to change and we can feel safe going out and letting loose.

Riley Head is a sophomore Philosophy, Politics and the Public and Gender and Diversity Studies double major. She is the Arts and Entertainment Editor for the Newswire from Louisville, Ky.