With sexual misconduct on college campuses in the national spotlight, two Connecticut state legislators have proposed a bill that would require all universities in the state to adopt a “yes means yes” policy.
The bill, proposed by Democratic State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-29, and Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-54, would mandate a “yes means yes” definition of sexual consent — also known as “affirmative consent” in all cases, providing a uniform approach to issues of sexual misconduct across the state.
Still, the bill is unlikely to impact Yale, which already mandates affirmative consent, requiring “positive, unambiguous and voluntary agreement” in sexual encounters. Yale is one of 800 colleges and universities that, as of last September, had already adopted affirmative consent policies, according to the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management.
“Having a clear standard of consent and educating students about that standard and making that standard consistent across universities in Connecticut … will all lead to a better understanding of what sexual assaults are,” Haddad said. He added that a clearer definition of what constitutes sexual consent could create a healthier campus culture where students feel more comfortable reporting sexual assaults.
Connecticut is not the first state to propose “yes means yes” legislation. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly advocated for an affirmative consent measure earlier this month, and a lawmaker in Maryland has proposed “yes means yes” legislation as well.
Last September, California passed a similar bill to the one proposed by Haddad and Flexer. The California bill said universities must adopt a standard of affirmative consent in order to receive state funds for student financial aid. Consent must be mutual, ongoing throughout a sexual activity and conscious.
Haddad said the California law played into his and Flexer’s thinking when drafting their proposed bill. He added that California’s law set a track for future affirmative consent legislation, and his and Flexer’s proposed bill will likely use language similar to California’s.
Flexer and Haddad both represent regions nears Storrs, Conn., home to the University of Connecticut. Haddad said the proposed bill resulted from conversations with student activists at UConn, who encouraged the two legislators to standardize the definitions of sexual consent across universities in the state.
But because UConn already has an affirmative consent policy, UConn Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Conklin said that the University anticipates no changes to its policies if the law passes. Caroline Kozietek, the Title IX coordinator at the University of New Haven, echoed the sentiment.
Conklin said UConn’s formal adoption of an affirmative consent policy in the early 2000s shifted the way the University investigates reports of sexual assault. Investigators now ask the initiators of sexual action whether the accuser had said yes, as opposed to asking if they had said no. In addition to bystander intervention training that emphasizes affirmative consent, freshmen at UConn also have the opportunity to take a class for credit which explores questions surrounding consent and sexual assault.
At the University of New Haven, Associate Dean for Student Life at the University of New Haven Ric Baker said an affirmative consent policy, along with other efforts to reduce sexual misconduct, have improved campus climate and more students are aware of how to report cases of sexual assault.
“We have seen an increase in the number of [sexual assault] reports,” he said. “I don’t think that means there has been an increase in incidences, but that more people feel comfortable coming forward.”
While many universities have adopted affirmative consent policies, they are not always reflected in campus culture, students interviewed suggested. Of 23 Yale students interviewed, 20 correctly defined affirmative consent, but only 12 said they felt the policy is treated as the campus norm.
Athena Wheaton ’18 said that while gaining mutual consent is important, the much-discussed hookup culture at Yale can sometimes run counter to affirmative consent policies.
“The desire for spontaneity, that is sometimes the root of casual hookups, is kind of affected by a pause and a verbal consent,” she said.
Correction, Feb. 4: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified State Sen. Mae Flexer and Rep. Gregory Haddad as Republicans. They are, in fact, Democrats.