By Spenser Hickey and Noah Manskar
Managing Editor and Online Editor
As colleges around the nation and the federal government work to address the epidemic of sexual violence on campuses, the California state legislature recently took a revolutionary step with the passage of affirmative consent legislation, currently awaiting the governor’s signature.
The bill would require colleges that receive state funds to strengthen their policies, pushing students to seek and receive active consent in sexual activity, rather than the current system where not receiving “no” is the general threshold.
While this action has received some criticism, it is one we support. At the start of the year, we both participated in the university’s main orientation program on sexual violence, organized through the theatre and dance department. In discussions after the dramatic performance, we emphasized that affirmative consent is the baseline standard. Those talks were a good step in addressing sexual violence for the incoming freshmen, but more concentrated efforts are needed to promote it here on campus to all students.
Putting the emphasis on seeking a yes, rather than whether “no” was said, returns the culpability regarding sexual violence where it belongs — with the perpetrator, not the person who experienced it. It also creates communication on sexual activity between those involved, which is beneficial for everyone.
There’s not much of an argument against it. The challenge comes from how dramatic a shift it is how we view sexual activity, especially in the traditionally heteronormative context of male-female dynamics, with men doing whatever they want until or after women say no.
This view isn’t very healthy, and it’s certainly not equal. It strengthens the position of perpetrators, as sexual violence cases often come down to who said what — did she (statistically far more likely) say no? That’s not what the question should be, and affirmative consent can change that.
As we’ve seen recently — Cee Lo Green and now Rush Limbaugh being the most recent celebrity offender — there’s a lot of confusion about what constitutes sexual assault, and affirmative consent education and requirements can change that as well.
In addition to mandating this practice, the California law also requires on-campus advocacy for services; amnesty for survivors and witnesses who come forward and acknowledge they’d drank while under 21; and training for campus disciplinary committees in how to handle sexual assault cases specifically.
These steps are critical in the fight against college sexual assault, and they are ones we think the University and student government should work to implement here on campus. A policy defining consent affirmatively codifies the ethical standard that human beings seeking to treat each other with dignity and respect should follow.
Affirmative consent policy began at Antioch University here in Ohio, While state and federal figures can order colleges to take steps, university administrators should take the initiative on programs like this — especially given how crucial it is for college students to understand the importance of affirmative consent.