October 21, 2014

EDITORIAL: Affirming Affirmative Consent

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In his address given Oct. 2 in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) ordered all State University of New York schools to adopt new, comprehensive sexual assault policies resembling that of the legislation signed into law on Sept. 28 in California. The SUNY Board of Trustees passed a memorandum to create a uniform sexual assault prevention and response plan for all 64 SUNY campuses, which, among a number of other necessary changes, establishes a clear definition of affirmative consent. The new SUNY campus policy reads, “Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary. Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent.” We at The Sun applaud Governor Cuomo’s call for all SUNY schools to adopt these policies, and, moreover, fully support the adoption of affirmative consent sexual assault policies for universities.

For too long our definition of consent has been based upon the verbal and physical resistance of the individual. The “no means no” paradigm is bound up in passivity and silence, merely built upon what consent is not. New affirmative consent standards reorient our society’s approach to sex by enabling greater accountability and mutual communication between sexual partners. Consent must be enthusiastic, communicative and ongoing throughout any sexual encounter, so that we may move past ambiguity and silence to a place where sexual partners are better able to express, engage and understand each other’s needs and wants when it comes to sex.

We at The Sun urge our University to push the state legislature to enact similar sexual assault policies across the state, as Governor Cuomo intends. We further charge the University to take on a broader and more active role in affirmative consent education for current and, especially, incoming students. Through the adoption of comprehensive statewide sexual assault policies and an active dedication to affirmative consent education, we can begin to fundamentally change the cultural norms that have enabled sexual assault to occur and be so prevalent today. We must strive to bring balance to the power dynamics of sexual encounters and relationships by empowering the voices of those involved.