CU News | Sarah Kuter | 1.29.15
Student leaders talking to lawmakers about affirmative consent standard
Student leaders at the University of Colorado want the state Legislature to consider requiring Colorado colleges and universities to adopt a standard of affirmative consent for sexual activity.
CU Student Government leaders have been talking with lawmakers about the potential for legislation modeled after a California law passed last year.
Using that state's initiative as a starting point for the conversation, students say they want the Colorado Legislature to address discrepancies in codes of conduct across Colorado higher education institutions.
"When you look across the state at the different consent policies, they're really incongruent," said Alex Rugoff, co-director of legislative affairs for CU Student Government. "A lot of the policies are on the 'no means no' basis, and instead of having people wait to hear a 'no,' we think they should seek out a 'yes' before they proceed."
The "yes means yes" framing of consent has gained national attention lately as institutions seek to address sexual assaults on campus. Proponents of the idea say it paints a clear picture of what good sex looks like, rather than telling students how far they can go before it becomes sexual assault.
Historically, consent has been framed as the absence of "no." But advocates say that telling students to keep going until someone says "stop" isn't a healthy way to think about sex.
Under this standard, all partners involved communicate that they want to proceed with a sexual activity.
Brett Sokolow, president and chief executive officer for the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, has written that sexual misconduct policies have the power to shape campus climate and student behaviors.
"The myth of college sexual misconduct policies is that they are only of a reactive nature, to be applied in judicial hearings to determine alleged violations," he wrote in a 2001 guide for campuses. "A well-constructed campus sexual misconduct policy is the best tool colleges have for creating proactive behavioral guidelines to which students may conform their behaviors."
Hundreds of schools around the country have some form of affirmative consent definition, and, last year, California became the first state to legislate a "yes means yes" policy for colleges and universities.
Tanya Kelly-Bowry, CU's vice president for government relations, said it was too early in the process for her to comment on the students' idea.
'Student voice should be heard'
The White House has spotlighted campus sexual assaults as more than 90 colleges and universities, including CU-Boulder, undergo investigations into their handling of sexual violence complaints.
CU is also facing a civil rights lawsuit from a male student who claims he was suspended for a night of consensual sex.
It's a topic that's on the minds of many students right now, Rugoff said.
"We think the student voice should be heard when it comes to these issues," said Rugoff, a senior. "Affirmative consent could change the campus culture to make it a safer environment and really empower students."
CU-Boulder's current consent definition is described in the student code of conduct as "clear, knowing, voluntary, mutually understandable words or actions which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreeable sexual activity."
If a person has been coerced or threatened, is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, is asleep, disabled or otherwise unable to consent, the standard cannot be met.
"I do feel like it lines up with affirmative consent," said Jessica Ladd-Webert, director of CU's Office of Victim Assistance. "When I talk about consent, I talk about it being active. It's something we really want to be enthusiastic. We want to make sure everyone involved is into it. Silence does not equal consent.
"We want consent to be something people are thinking about as a positive, sexy, good thing."
CU defines consent during a number of orientation sessions for new students, and tries to reinforce it throughout a student's time on campus with messaging, posters, newsletters and events, Ladd-Webert said.
It's one piece of a comprehensive plan to address sexual assault at CU-Boulder, which includes bystander intervention training sessions, revamping orientation, reducing barriers to reporting and beefing up the office that investigates sexual misconduct.