Rachel Halliday’s Conversations on Consent

One of few women on the men’s rowing team, she took the lead in raising sexual consent awareness  

As a coxswain for the Tufts men’s rowing team, Rachel Halliday, A23, provides crucial communication when it comes to navigating the boat through choppy waters.  

She plays a similarly vocal role on dry land. As one of the few women on a men’s team, Halliday found herself fielding confidences from fellow classmates about uncomfortable encounters they had with athletes. So Halliday began giving presentations to her teammates on the basics of sexual consent, building on Tufts’ Green Dot bystander intervention program. Initially uncertain how her teammates would react, Halliday was gratified to find that her directness was as well-received in the locker room as it is on the boat. 

What is your role on the team? 

The role of the coxswain, first of all, is to drive the boat. I sit in the stern of a boat that’s over 60 feet long, and I drive it with a rudder the size of a credit card. 

I’m also the mediator between the coaching staff and rowers in the boat. During a race, I’m the only person who says anything. I have a little microphone and headset, and everyone can hear me. My job is to be really in tune with what the guys need, what they want to hear from me. That means: How do I inspire people to go faster when they’re going as hard as they can? How do I update them on what else is happening in the race so that we know when to apply power?  

For a boat of rowers, spending 15 weeks listening to one person for four hours a day can be very annoying. I have to engage with my teammates and be open to feedback.  

You’ve been an important part of team discussions about consent. Is that something that unfolded organically?  

When I joined the team as a freshman, I had heard stories from other students that were relatively vague, but that I believed had to do with athletes not understanding what consent was. I went to the captains at the time and said: “We should do something.” 

Around this time, Tufts Green Dot [a campus-wide bystander intervention program to prevent violence] was reaching out to athletic teams and asking that each team have a rep, and I agreed to do it. But Green Dot only covers bystander intervention, and we needed something [in addition].  

One of my other teammates and I gave a presentation: What is consent? Why is consent important? Consent is important because it’s mandatory.  

In the presentation, we talk about what consent looks like—that it should be clear, continuous, coherent, and comfortable. The idea that consent should be comfortable is the most interesting part to communicate with men. We talk a lot about how power dynamics work in romantic encounters. My teammates talk about how important it is to be aware of how big you are in space, and how threatening. They’re not little eight-year-old boys anymore. They’re 220-pound, six-foot-five men.  

We’ve given the presentation several times since then. I kind of worried that people would laugh at me and be like, “Oh, she’s that token girl on her token girl dialogue.” But my teammates were very open and very receptive, and I think it’s helped the team culture.  

Do you want to continue consent work after graduation? 

I was 18 when I gave the presentation for the first time. I had been on the team for two months. There were people who still didn’t know my name. I’m eight inches shorter than most of them, and I was in their locker room, talking to them about sex. Talking about something so intimate with people kind of scared me a little bit. However, I want to continue.  

I’m a political science, international relations, and French major. So I talk a lot! I love finding ways to communicate with people and figure out what they mean to say. I find that really empowering, and I think the consent work is an aspect of that. Being able to talk about something that I think is vital in a clear and concise manner is super important. That’s what I want to do after college. 

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