October 5, 2014

Governor Demands New SUNY Sexual Assault Policies in Hopes for Statewide Law

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Under an order by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), all State University of New York schools will have to adopt a new, comprehensive sexual assault policy within 60 days his address, given Thursday.

Cuomo said the new SUNY policy will eventually lead to a statewide, sexual assault law covering all universities in the state, according to The New York Times.

Addressing the SUNY Board of Trustees, Cuomo called sexual assault an “epidemic.”

“It is spreading. And it is pervasive. It’s plaguing our college campuses, it’s astonishing and it’s troubling,” he said in his speech Thursday.

Following Cuomo’s address, the SUNY Board of Trustees passed a memorandum to establish a uniform sexual assault prevention and response plan for all 64 SUNY campuses.

Among many changes, the new policy will define consent as a “clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement,” resembling legislation signed into law on Sept. 28 in California establishing the “yes means yes” definition of consent.

The new definition for affirmative consent at SUNY campuses now reads, “Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary. Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent.”

According to Cuomo, while campus sexual assault is not only a problem at SUNY schools, it is an issue that SUNY should lead in combating.

“This is a societal problem. This is Harvard and Yale and Princeton, Albany and Buffalo and Oswego,” Cuomo said. “It is not SUNY’s problem by origination. I would suggest it should be SUNY’s problem to solve and SUNY’s place to lead.”

Philip Titcomb ’17, LGBTQ representative at-large for the Student Assembly, said he supports SUNY’s new policy.

“I believe that it is a step in the right direction. Consent must be mutual when partaking in any and all forms of sexual activity,” Titcomb said. “I believe that Gov. Cuomo’s policy for the SUNY schools will affect Cornell by helping to further define what consent actually is, hopefully helping administrators thoroughly prosecute sexual assailants.”

According to Titcomb, the change in SUNY’s sexual assault policy should prompt Cornell to update its own p­­olicy on discrimination, harassment and sexual assault and violence, titled “University Policy 6.4”

“Put bluntly, Policy 6.4 is ineffective,” Titcomb said. “We need to foster an environment where survivors of sexual assault are able to come forward and report what happened to them rather than stigmatize and blame the survivors. It is also important to remember that men can also be subjected to sexual assault and that sexual assault does not only happen in a heterosexual context; men can prey on men and women can prey on women.”

Many students have also recently raised concerns about Policy 6.4. At the rally for the National Day of Protest Against Rape Culture last Tuesday, protesters left a mattress in front of Day Hall with the spray painted message, “Skorton, here is your oral warning. We’re fighting back.”

The “oral warning” echoes terminology used in Policy 6.4, which states that disciplinary action against Cornellians who commit sexual assault or violence can include an “oral warning.” Other disciplinary actions include suspension, dismissal and community work.

According to Yamini Bhandari ’17, women’s issues liaison at large for the S.A., while the University’s sexual policy may “have its flaws,” the policy is comparable to that of other institutions.

“I think the problem for us is the fact that the policies are so confusing that it becomes a deterrent for most students to actually utilize them,”  Bhandari said.