Members of the University of Connecticut student body expressed support for a statewide higher education bill mandating affirmative consent policy for colleges and universities in Connecticut.
Two weeks ago, UConn’s Undergraduate Senate Government (USG) passed a position of statement supporting the mantra, “Yes means Yes,” and the policy of affirmative consent at every college in Connecticut, a law only existing in California currently.
UConn first implemented an affirmative consent policy following a $1.3 million settlement to several students who felt the university responded very poorly when they reported being sexually assaulted.
UConn and Yale University are the only universities in Connecticut with an the affirmative consent policy, meaning other colleges expect to hear the victim demonstrated sufficient lack of consent, Stephanie Sponzo, USG senator, said.
Sponzo and fellow USG senator Danielle Bergmann sponsored the university bill after meeting the sponsor of the state senate bill, Senator Mae Flexer, at a panel encouraging women’s leadership and participation on college campuses.
According to the bill, affirmative consent is “an active, informed, unambiguous and voluntary agreement by a person to engage in sexual activity with another person that is sustained throughout the sexual activity and may be revoked at any time by any person.”
“You just have to prove that you obtained consent and both parties are held to the same standard. Both are on the same level so it removes a lot of the ambiguity in a ‘no means no’ situation” Bergmann said.
In addition to the shift from “proof of refusal” to “proof of consent,” the bill mandates prompt investigation and response to sexual assault allegations, education on consent and consistent prevention of sexual assault.
The USG bill passed on March 11 with only two opposing votes and overwhelming support from ex-officio representatives of the cultural centers, including the Rainbow Center and the African-American Cultural Center.
Bergmann and Sponzo gauged the student population’s opinions before bringing the bill to USG through a ‘Bark for Beer’ survey asking if the student answering supports the university having an affirmative consent policy – “yes means yes.”
The senators received 160 responses indicating “absolutely yes” and 42 “leaning yes.” 30 were indifferent, seven responses were “leaning no” and seven responded “absolutely no.”
Bergmann and Sponzo clarified the bill is not meant to address the causes of sexual assault but rather the response, especially the common practice of victim blaming and shaming.
“Just compare the thought process of a man who is looking for a no, as opposed to the thought process of a man who is looking for engagement and positive feedback. I think that is key,” Sponzo said.
The USG bill was passed the same night as the statement of position supporting the legalization of marijuana in Connecticut and neither has been the subject of any newspaper articles outside of UConn despite the prominent status of the university.
The Connecticut General Assembly’s bill concerning affirmative consent has just passed the committee stage and is planned to be voted on in the state senate on July 1.
“There’s not really much we can do further,” Bergman said. “Now it has to come up through the legislature.”
A press conference about the affirmative consent bill led by Flexer and co-sponsor Rep. Gregg Haddad is taking place Friday in the Women’s Center at UConn at 10:30 a.m.