Minn. State system Board adopts 'affirmative' sexual consent policy
ST. PAUL—Students and staff could be punished if they fail to obtain affirmative consent for sex through "words or clear, unambiguous action" under a policy change approved Wednesday, Feb. 21, by the Minnesota State Board of Trustees.
The policy applies to some 375,000 students at the state-run system's 30 colleges and seven universities, as well as faculty and staff and anyone who has sex on campus.
"As an English teacher, I just never thought I'd see a sentence that included sexual activity and the words clear and unambiguous in the same sentence, but you know, progress," trustee Louise Sundin joked.
More than a thousand U.S. colleges, including the University of Minnesota and every college in California and New York, have adopted "affirmative consent" language in recent years.
It puts the onus on the partner initiating sex to obtain clear consent rather than on the receiving partner to object — "Yes means yes" instead of "No means no."
Students United, the advocacy group for state university students, has pushed for the change, saying it has strong support from students.
Critics worry about impact
Critics say consensual sex often takes place without affirmative consent. And because of federal mandates for colleges to investigate sexual assault and use a low standard of evidence in meting out punishment, students could be expelled for conduct that violates school policy but is not against the law.
Trustee Basil Ajuo expressed concern Wednesday about instances where a couple had consensual sex but "tomorrow, when there is annoyance or argument or anger, the story changes."
Clyde Pickett, chief diversity officer for Minnesota State, said the system's previous policy on consent was "strong and robust" but students advocated for affirmative consent.
Other additions to the policy make clear that even dating couples must obtain affirmative consent each time, that consent must be present throughout the encounter and that a lack of protest does not, by itself, constitute consent.
Spreading the word
"We ... believe that the change will enhance student safety and understanding and improve campus climate," Pickett said.
The system has discussed spreading the word about the change with a poster campaign and during new student orientation, he said.
A work group will be tasked with recommending ongoing training for students and employees, which will include not only affirmative consent but also sexual violence prevention, reporting and bystander intervention.
While the policy applies systemwide, it still will be up to each college and university to investigate complaints, determine whether the policy was violated and issue penalties, ranging from warnings to student expulsion or employee termination.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service