Creating consent policies isn’t enough—schools have to explain them, too

NYT reports on how schools are making policies concrete for students

As schools move to affirmative consent policies, students need guidance on how to apply the written policies to real-life situations, Jessica Bennett reports for the New York Times.

"People often ask, 'Why teach consent?'" says Harry Brod, a sociology professor at the University of Northern Iowa. He replies: "because we often have entirely different understandings of what it means."

For example, 61% percent of men in one study reported using a woman's body language to understand consent. But only 10% of women said they signaled consent using body language.

An estimated 1,500 universities and colleges now use "affirmative consent," or "yes means yes," policies, but these vary by institution and even within institutions. And while the school handbook may lay out in legal language what exactly that constitutes consent, the real world application and understanding of consent remains murky, Bennett writes.

Students are full of questions: Can body language indicate consent? Must it be given verbally? For each act?

"These things are very tidy on paper," says Jason Laker, a San Jose State University professor, who co-created a project that examines how students communicate consent. But "there's a big gap between the laws and policies that stipulate consent, and people's understanding of it."

Schools are experimenting with a  variety of approaches to educating students about the new consent policies, including traveling shows, musical theater, workshops, improv shows, and courses. Trinity College in Connecticut requires freshmen to complete a sexual assault curriculum that includes a workshop led by the founder of the group Party with Consent. The workshop includes both pop-culture references and more sophisticated discussions of ideas like "social constructs of gender." It's followed by an actual "party with consent," with live music and bowls of colorful condoms that remind students to ask for consent.

Other schools have adopted the "Consent is Sexy" workshop series and poster campaign, created by a psychologist and former campus minister, or the "Sex Signals" travelling improv show. New York University asks freshmen to attend a sexual misconduct musical.

Related: As everyone rethinks consent, administrators rethink orientation

But no one seems to be keeping track of the various methods or how effective each one is.  It's not too different, says Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), from the lack of uniformity in how school responds to acts of sexual assault (Bennett, New York Times, 11/9).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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