‘Consent Matters’ campaign educates students on consent and sexual misconduct

A student presses her hand, painted blue, on a banner with the words "Consent Matters."

During the Consent Matters: Students Against Violence Walk, held in October, students added their handprints to a banner to show their commitment to ending partner violence.

Credit: Sharon Siegfried

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Penn State Harrisburg has been holding “Consent Matters” events in an effort to educate students on a broad spectrum of issues related to consent and sexual misconduct.

It can be challenging to educate and prepare students for the wide range of situations that can occur, according to Nicholas Paesano, equity compliance specialist/sexual misconduct resource person at Penn State Harrisburg. The Consent Matters campaign has included events that offer students a hands-on opportunity to show their support or increase their knowledge.

“Our goal with the Consent Matters campaign is to encourage individuals to take an active role in gaining consent and the importance consent plays in relationships. The programs under this campaign are designed to educate students, inspire students to care about this issue, and provide opportunities for students to demonstrate allyship toward preventing sexual assaults,” Paesano said.

In October 2022, more than 100 students participated in the Consent Matters: Students Against Violence Walk to show their commitment to ending partner violence. The event was hosted by the Student Affairs Title IX office and Golden Z, a student organization and branch of Zonta International dedicated to empowering women through service.

A few weeks later, the Consent Matters: Personal Safety & Awareness event offered a self-defense course taught by University Police. Paesano said he hopes to repeat both events.

Paesano and drug and alcohol counselor Ashley Glenn also teach a required course for first-year students called “We are one community: Sexual misconduct, alcohol and drug education.” There, they explore topics including Title IX (the federal law prohibiting sexual harassment and sex discrimination in education); alcohol and drugs; sexual misconduct; sexual harassment; dating and domestic violence; and consent.

Paesano emphasizes to students the importance of “listening, understanding and respecting whatever your partner is saying.”

“The majority of cases I’ve seen come across my desk — the Title IX incident occurred because the parties didn’t communicate or one decided not to listen, understand and respect … it’s a simple misstep that creates a lifelong challenge for people,” he said.

Upcoming Consent Matters events

Consent Matters Women’s Basketball Game – Feb. 14, 5 p.m.: First 50 students in attendance get a free Consent Matters T-Shirt.

Consent Matters Men’s Basketball Game – Feb. 14, 7 p.m.: First 50 students in attendance get a free Consent Matters T-Shirt.

Consent Matters Personal Safety & Awareness – April 4, noon: Watch CORQ for details.

What to know about consent

Whether an individual chooses to or not to have sex is a valid and personal decision. In every sexual encounter, consent must be informed, freely given and mutual. If a person does not give consent, such as in any of the below examples, and another party continues with a sexual encounter, the act could constitute sexual assault: 

Consent is affirmative and ongoing: If a person is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol or is unconscious, they cannot consent. 

Consent can be either verbal or nonverbal, but it must be clearly given: If you’re unsure if someone has given consent, then stop immediately. Make sure you clearly receive and confirm the other party’s consent before initiating or continuing. 

Not saying “no” doesn't mean “yes”: If a person simply doesn’t say “no,” this is not consent. If a person must be pressured or convinced into giving consent, it is not true consent. 

Individuals can change their mind: If a person says “yes” but later changes their mind, they are no longer giving consent. You can consent initially and then decide to stop; everyone has the right to change their mind and withdraw consent. 


Penn State Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response

Campus Resources

Sexual Assault Resources

More information and resources and support available can be found online here.