Myth of Miscommunication Workshops

By offering mandatory, campus-wide workshops each fall, the CCEs can effectively engage entire grades of students in discussion of two key topics that we find essential to a more positive campus culture: the myth of miscommunication and bystander intervention. In these workshops, we create a space for exchanging thoughts, experiences and techniques on the subjects of sexual pressure and bystander interventions.

The freshman workshop, “The Myth of Miscommunication,” debunks the myth that sexual assault can occur as a result of confusion or misunderstanding. This workshop is built upon research in psychology and linguistics that shows that patterns of communication and refusal are consistent across circumstances of interaction, and that nuanced signals of deferral or refusal are evident and recognizable across gender, as well.

In the workshop, students act scenarios where someone is inviting someone else to get frozen yogurt.  The different responses and subsequent interactions demonstrate the signals we use to communicate what we want in everyday situations. Whether signaling enthusiastic consent, or delay, deferral or other forms of refusal, it becomes clear that we know what others are communicating through both verbal and nonverbal means, regardless of the absence of an explicit "no" or "yes". This shared interpretive repertoire extends into sexual situations, as well: our basic abilities to understand the signs of delay, deferral or refusal do not suddenly vanish in sexual situations, and we know when our partner(s) are communicating their enthusiasm.

We then extend workshop discussion to sexual pressure: if sexual pressure isn't a result of miscommunication, where does it come from? what form does sexual pressure take on our campus? How can we avoid pressuring our partners, or being pressured by them?  The discussion establishes several important norms: that nobody should ever pressure someone or disregard what they're communicating in a sexual situation, and that pressure and disrespect should be recognized and called out at the first appearance.  Finally, we discuss what an ideal sexual culture on campus would look like.  By raising the bar above consent and asking students to envision a campus free of anything less than fully enthusiastic sexual interactions, we work to build a campus consensus that sexual pressure is unacceptable.