“Things Happen Faster in the Bubble”: Sex and Consent at AUC

By Maxime Garcia Diaz, Tanushree Kaushal, and Luuk van der Sterren

— It should come as no surprise that AUC students hook up with each other. At many residential colleges, the existence of a small and close-knit community of young adults can lead to a strong prevalence of casual sexual interactions between students. In a recent survey by The Herring, completed by about one-fifth of the student body, 76 percent of respondents indicated that they had hooked up with another AUC student.

“It’s a small environment, so I think things happen a lot faster in the bubble than outside,” recently graduated science student Chris* said. “I suppose we are a pretty incestuous bunch, just because of geographical location and shared interests,” said Megan Clay, also a recently graduated science student. “At any university campus I would expect it to be the same.” Yannesh Meijman, social science major and soon to be third-year student, agrees there is a hook up culture between AUC students: “If you would make knots of names and start drawing all these knots to each other, you would get quite an interesting web.”

Within this hook up culture, safety and respect in sexual relationships are important, especially because of the claustrophobic social environment of AUC. “If you hook up with someone from AUC you will see them all the time,” said Isabel Frey, a recently graduated social sciences major. “And if they hurt you in any way, you’ll see them all the time and if you hurt them in any way, they’ll have to see you all the time.”

In countries like the US, campus sexual assault has been a widely reported issue: the Stanford rape case is only one recent example. Because residential university campuses are uncommon in the Netherlands, there has been much less conversation and research on campus sexual assault — as this (Dutch) article in the NRC Handelsblad discusses. University College campuses such as AUC are some of the only environments in the country where hook up culture and consent issues can thus come into play like they do in American universities.

To look into the issue, The Herring created a survey that was freely available to AUC students through various Facebook groups. Though the results should not be seen as scientific evidence, they were used as an indication and a starting point for this article.

Out of the approximately 180 respondents, 14 percent answered “yes” to the question whether they had “ever had a sexual experience with an AUC student that [they] did not consent** to”, while 25 percent indicated they had had an “experience with another AUC student where consent was ambiguous.” In addition to the survey, The Herring spoke to staff members and students in order to investigate the situation surrounding hook up culture, sexual consent, and institutional policy for cases of consent violation at AUC.


The results of the survey: Question 1.

Hookup culture and consent

The Herring survey did not define the notoriously ambiguous term “hook up”, but there appears to be consensus among the student body what it means. According to Clay, a “hook up” is “a casual, probably sexual, interaction, that has kind of no ambition, let’s say, towards leading to something more serious.” Meijman has a similar definition: “I think something quite casual, it could either happen one time or it can happen over time with the same person, but you both know that there’s not that much behind it except for mutual attraction.”

This kind of hook up might be more likely to happen in the AUC community, simply because of the close proximity in which students live. “If you’re out living in the city, you’ve gotta make that conscious decision to hop on the back of someone else’s bike or cycle back with them to their place,” Clay said, “whereas if you’re stumbling down from a dorm party and someone says, ‘do you wanna have a cig in my room?’ Then you walk in, not even having made that decision, not even having thought about it, and one situation leads to another.”

“The last time I hooked up with someone outside AUC is a long time ago,” Meijman said. “You can get really awkward situations. Like suddenly you’re in a group of girls and you’ve hooked up with three of them, and it’s quite strange.”

The question is how the issue of sexual consent comes into play in these casual interactions. As a member of the Feminist Committee, Frey organized a “Redefining Consent” workshop during this year’s Women’s Week. “I think especially in connection to drugs, party culture, hookup culture, the question of consent doesn’t really get seen as being relevant to a lot of AUC students,” she said. “On the one hand, I think there are people at AUC who are super conscious of all of this. On the other hand, I think there are also people who really don’t think about this at all, and also kind of reject thinking about it in this way, which I think is the main problem. That it’s as if talking about consent was scary, radical feminist, or PC thought police, or whatever.”

In organizing the workshop, Frey said, “the goal was basically to get beyond this classical, legalistic definition, and get to some kind of thinking about consent as a process and not as a blame game, and as something we can all hold each other accountable for.”

Personally, Frey is also still learning to always clearly obtain consent in sex: “A lot of the time I feel like I don’t want to ask because it’s awkward or something like that,” she said. “I think because we’ve kind of been taught that sex is something bodily, instinctual, and we don’t talk about it — we only talk about in a ritualized way like dirty talk or something.”

This reluctance to ask for verbal, explicit consent was echoed by Meijman. “I don’t really ask, I try to sense whether she’s into it or not,” he said.

Clay agrees that giving and receiving clear, verbal consent can be a “mood breaker,” because it “introduces a formality into a situation which is meant to be full of informal sentiments, and that has a certain amount of flow.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The results of the survey: Questions 2 and 3.

What if it goes wrong?

The apprehension and confusion around the issue can lead to situations where consent is violated between students. Two of the AUC students who answered “yes” to the second survey question (“Have you ever had a sexual experience with an AUC student that you did not consent to?”) told The Herring about their experiences with such situations. Anna*, a female student, said that a friend in whose bed she was sleeping started touching her while she was severely intoxicated. He continued despite her verbal and physical attempts to stop him.

“Basically, he kept trying and trying and trying, and saying that I was giving him signals and [saying that this was] what I was asking for,” she said. Afterwards, Anna found it difficult to deal with the experience. “You think it’s not your fault, everyone tells you it’s not your fault, but you just can’t help thinking like, if I just had gone home, or gotten out of there five minutes beforehand, or if I just stayed away from him a little bit more, or been more explicit, or even just would have gone with it, then I wouldn’t be in this situation where I just feel torn apart.”

Another female student, Jess*, said that a fellow student she was hooking up with forced her to have unprotected sex despite her repeated refusal. “When I had to fill out the form the other day I was like, shit, this is not okay. I actually said no several times and I didn’t want it,” she said. Jess had not expected this to happen to her at AUC: “You feel more protected because we all live in the same dorms, we see each other every day, so it’s like they don’t have the right to be assholes to you.”

This strongly intertwined social nature of AUC life, however, also makes these experiences particularly hard to deal with for both Jess and Anna. “The worst part was just seeing him at school all the time,” Anna said. “It was terrible. I couldn’t go to school without wanting to throw up. I had a lot of panic attacks in the bathroom.” She has found a way to cope with seeing the student in question on the AUC campus, but: “I’m never okay with it. I don’t care if I’m smiling at him as if everything’s fine, I’m never okay with it.”

In terms of consequences, neither Jess nor Anna wish to pursue any legal or institutional ramifications for the other students involved. They cited several reasons, such as not wanting to hurt the other person or not wanting to be seen as a victim. Both mentioned the close-knit, “everyone knows everyone” nature of the AUC community as a reason for not seeking legal action.

“The only thing I want is to never see him again,” Jess said. “I hope he’s never going to do that again to somebody.”

What can and should AUC do?

AUC does not currently have an official policy for sexual assault on campus, unlike for example University College Utrecht. The UCU Student Handbook clearly lays out the possible punishment in cases of “harassment, discrimination, or involuntary sexual contact”: consequences can range from a warning to permanent expulsion from college.

So far, no AUC student seems to have made a formal complaint about sexual assault by a fellow student. It is unclear what would happen if someone did, though, as the AUC Social Code of Conduct does not include any explicit mention of violation of sexual consent. “Inappropriate social conduct” (Article 1), “endangering the safety of others” (Article 2), or “violence” (Article 3) could potentially cover instances of sexual assault, but social probation is the only mentioned possible consequence for these offenses.

“AUC doesn’t show that they are an institution that can help you with this,” said Sara*, a student who indicated on the survey that she had had a nonconsensual experience with a fellow student but declined to give The Herring details. “[They] should make it more clear that they can support you, and they should improve their ability to support you.” Available resources at the UvA, such as the “Confidential Advisor for Undesirable Behavior” or the Student Psychologist Office, are not listed in the Student Handbook or particularly publicized to AUC students. “I had no idea that even existed,” Anna said about the Confidential Advisor for Undesirable Behavior.

One reason why official policies for this issue may be difficult to implement is that every case of sexual assault is individual and personal. Senior Tutor Mariette Willemsen said that “such cases are dealt with on a careful case-by-case basis. There are many delicate things that need to be considered here. They are taken utterly seriously.” However, she added, “It is not contextual if there has been a breach of consent. If there is no consent, then there is no further discussion. No consent rules out all context and discussion.”

A potential problem with the case-by-case approach is that there is a lack of clarity within official policy. As a result, students may not know where to turn to address an experience of violated consent. In comparison, the UCU Student Handbook states that “any student wishing to report any violation of the Social Honor Code, including harassment, discrimination, or involuntary sexual contact, should consult with the housemaster, his or her tutor, and the Student Life Officer as soon as possible.” At AUC, the Student Life Officer is a newer initiative, and it seems students are not fully aware of this resource on campus. Anna said she was under the impression that “the Student Life Officer was for academic reasons or something. I never knew I could talk to her about this stuff.”

Crisis protocol

In an attempt to confront personal issues students may experience during their time on campus, AUC management is working on establishing a “crisis protocol.” According to Student Life Officer Vinika Porwal, this protocol “is a listing of the first few steps that can be taken in emergency and traumatic cases. These deal with personal crises, which are not necessarily overt and external. One of the topics within this pertains to assault, rape and intimidation.”

In investigating possible cases of sexual assault, however, AUC is limited by the wishes of the victim. “In cases where there has been violence against an individual, it is the student’s prerogative to decide whether to file a case or not. We are not going to take their choice away again,” Porwal said. Instead, she focuses on adopting an empathetic and understanding approach towards those who contact her. “My priority in such cases is making the students know that it is not their fault. There are all kinds of things people bring up — clothes, drinking, whatever. Nothing makes any of this their fault.”

A first step towards education and awareness is the setting up of orientation sessions during the Introduction Week in September, when the Class of 2019 arrives at AUC. Porwal, along with the rest of the management team, intends to have mandatory weekly sessions, spread out over the first few months of the 2016 fall semester.

The sessions will aim to familiarize first-years with a range of issues and support systems available for them and will also discuss topics such as sexual health, assault and consent. Porwal added that this issue is about “respecting the dignity of other individuals, and that cannot come from enlisting it in procedures alone. This is a much larger process, and what we need is an education of some sort which explains what consent means.”

(*) Some student names have been changed at their request to protect their privacy.

If you or someone you know has been subject to sexual harassment or assault, either on campus or outside, the following resources are available:

Vinika Porwal Student Life Officer at AUC. Her email is v.porwal@auc.nl
UvA Resources UvA has a “Confidential Advisor for Undesirable Behaviour” you can approach if you were a victim of “sexual intimidation, bullying, aggression, violence, stalking and discrimination.” Though there is no specific advisor for AUC, you can approach any one of them regardless of your faculty. Find their contact details here.
You can find contact details for the UvA Student Psychologists here.
Amsterdam Municipal Health Service The Amsterdam Municipal Health Service (GGD Amsterdam) operates a center for victims of sexual violence that can direct you to further resources. They are reachable 24/7 on the toll-free phone number 0800-0188 and will do their best to help English-speaking callers as well. Their website (Dutch) can be found here.
Mental Health Support There is a private mental health clinic at Science Park called Grip Psychologen which has shorter waiting times than the UvA psychologists but is not free of charge.
Medical Services for Students If you need a doctor, both Dutch and international UvA students are entitled to this Student Medical Service if properly insured.
AUC Peer Support You can also contact AUC Peer Support; they have an anonymous contact form you can use if you don’t want to reveal your identity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s