New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill titled “Enough Is Enough” last July to address sexual assault on college campuses. As a result of that bill, colleges must validate verbal and nonverbal definitions of affirmative consent.
Plattsburgh State Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise said although PSUC has been ahead of the game in how it treats campus sexual assault, the legislation applies to all community, state and private colleges in the state.
Blaise said that, even though PSUC was functioning under the definition of affirmative consent, “Enough Is Enough” changed its language to be more inclusive to nonverbal college students.
“Any college or university in New York state must utilize the definition of affirmative consent,” Blaise said.
However, she is not delivering that message alone.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so condom company Trojan initiated a campaign to promote sober, affirmative consent on college campuses. It created the hashtag, #AskForIt, to help track Trojan campaign events regarding consent at colleges and universities all over the country.
Trojan’s website has posted a pledge college students can take to support a culture of consent, and it encourages students and their peers to be agents of change in their communities.
New York state, by way of “Enough Is Enough,” is promoting that spirit of change for all of its campuses.
Blaise said that, previously, the college’s definition of affirmative consent stated that students must give a verbal “yes” to provide affirmative consent to their potential partners. However, she also said that in an effort to be more inclusive to students who speak English as their second language, suffer from hearing loss, are shy or who are otherwise nonverbal, “Enough Is Enough” included a mandate that socially affirmative cues equaled that of a verbal response.
“That way, we are not excluding members of the population who are not, in fact, verbal,” Blaise said. She added that students should know what a nonverbal “yes” looks like, and that is different for everyone. For some it could be a smile. This might not be the case for another.
She said it is important for people to be educated on the definition and to communicate clearly.
“In a situation where someone is not verbal, it’s knowing very clearly ahead what ‘yes’ is to that person,” she said.
PSUC English language arts major Kirsten Johnson said students who are more apt to express themselves nonverbally should have protection under the law.
“Anything we can do to protect the students from sexual assault, I think we need to work harder at it,” Johnson said. “People who can’t always say ‘yes,’ if they do have social anxiety, if they don’t speak English, I think someone needs to stand up for them.”
Blaise said if a student even wants to kiss someone, it is best for students to get to know each other on a personal level, so they can more easily establish unspoken signs for affirmative consent.
PSUC computer science major Austin Crossley said he agrees with the state’s message that nonverbal communication should be taken as seriously as verbal.
“Any kind of ‘no’ means no,” Crossley said. “If you don’t want to, you don’t want to do it. There’s no other answer to that.”
Crossley said the college and the state take a hard stance on this because students should have a right to safety on campus.
He said he hopes that these recent measures are enough to promote campus safety, but if it doesn’t work as well as it should, he said the college needs to look at other options to address the issue.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported on its website that body language is different for everyone, and that it is the responsibility of the person initiating sex to make sure they get the consent of the other individual.
“If you’re not getting a clear, enthusiastic yes from your partner, it is your responsibility to ask,” UNC said on its website.
Crossley said the school has a duty to ensure student safety.
“The school should take whatever measures necessary to keep all the students safe,” he said.
Email Tim Lyman at firstname.lastname@example.org