Students, community members chat about consent culture

Chico State student Anna Swetnika promotes consent through chalk drawings and messages Saturday on the Chico State Bike Path after a discussion and ice cream at Depot Park. Photo credit: Shayla Ramos

The Chico State Bike Path runs between the campus at Cherry Street and West Lindo Avenue, providing students with a quick path to school. However, the bike path may not be as bustling with students biking or walking after dark.

Anna Swetnika, a junior accounting major, walks the bike trail twice a day, every day.

“I walk it during the day, but I would not come down here at night,” Swetnika said.

Although some students may fear the bike trail after dusk, some Chico locals and students strive to detach the negative stigma that surrounds the path.

Rudy Megan Baker Heal, a 31-year-old community member who was born and raised in Chico, discovered the trail’s negative connotation about a year ago. Her restaurant co-workers at the time expressed concern for another employee who planned on taking the bike trail home.

“They were worried because she lived on the ‘rape trail,'” she said. “You can’t name part of my town that.”

Heal has been developing ideas for responding to the “rape trail” connotation because she believes no one should feel in danger while walking on the bike path, she said.

Fueled by her loyalty and ownership of her hometown, Heal hosted an event Saturday afternoon that allowed students and community members to discuss the idea of consent in intimate relationships.

“If you want to fix it, you have to give people a new model,” Heal said. “You need to tell them what to do, rather than what not to do.”

Heal strives to open up the conversation about what the definition of consent is and to create a “consent culture” in Chico.

“The idea of consent is that with each step you ask, ‘Is this OK?'” she said. “Because with that you give her the opportunity to say, “Yes.'”

During her “Consent is Respect” event Saturday, Heal facilitated a discussion over ice cream about consent and the lack of its presence in Chico.

“The drinking takes away so much of the people’s ability to check in with themselves,” she said. “It just numbs the whole thought-processing unit.”

Elizabeth Torres, a former French major at Chico State, sees that rape culture and an alcohol problem go hand in hand in affecting how consent is communicated, Torres said.

“I realize that when that communication isn’t very clear or isn’t quite there it can lead to really troubling situation,” she said. “From there it can have a huge impact on the rest of your life.”

The event concluded with attendees gathering at the bike trail at the West Sacramento Avenue and North Cedar Street intersection. Attendees drew chalk art and wrote messages about consent.

Heal hopes to organize another event about consent in the fall and create a consent culture in Chico.

“Everybody now knows what ‘rape culture’ means,” Heal said. “Now I want to create another culture: ‘consent culture.'”

Katrina Cameron can be reached at [email protected] or @katcameron91 on Twitter.