Last Wednesday, the Connecticut Senate voted 35 to one in favor of a bill requiring both private and public colleges and universities in the state to adopt affirmative consent as the standard in handling cases of sexual misconduct on campus.
Commonly defined as “yes means yes,” the affirmative consent standard puts the burden of proof on the accused party, who is now responsible for demonstrating that affirmative consent was given before any sexual activity took place. Lawmakers in support of the bill stressed that affirmative consent means “active, informed, unambiguous and voluntary agreement” and will help university administrators handle sexual misconduct on campus with greater efficacy and clarity. Several Connecticut universities, including Yale, already use an affirmative consent standard.
The bill, which had failed to pass the House last year, comes on the heels of two high-profile sexual misconduct cases that recently took place on Connecticut campuses: In February, former captain of the Yale men’s basketball team Jack Montague was expelled for violating University policies on sexual misconduct, and last month, a female student at the University of Connecticut reported being sexually assaulted by as many as three people in a dorm room on campus. UConn, like Yale, already has an affirmative consent policy in place, as does the University of New Haven.
Students from different colleges and universities across the state gathered in front of the Connecticut State Capitol in April to demonstrate their support for the bill when it was being considered in the House. The House of Representatives voted 138 to seven in favor of the the affirmative consent standard on April 28, and with the Senate’s confirmation last week, the bill now rests in the hands of the governor.
At Yale, cases of sexual misconduct are formally heard by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which has the power to recommend disciplinary actions if it finds that policies have been violated. The committee consists of 30 students, faculty and staff, and a panel of five committee members is appointed for each formal hearing.
University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler, University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct Chair David Post and Assistant Director of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd said that the bill, if signed into law, will not change the way Yale hears cases of alleged sexual misconduct.
“Yale’s support for affirmative consent has been longstanding, and an affirmative definition of consent has been included in our policy to address sexual misconduct for a number of years,” Spangler said. “[The bill] is designed to ensure that all Connecticut colleges and universities adopt an affirmative consent policy if they have not already done so.”
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz told the News that the university supported the passage of this legislation. She added that UConn has abided by this standard for student disciplinary cases since 2002.
“UConn has found that this affirmative standard allows for a meaningful dialogue about consent that is first introduced to students during orientation and reaffirmed throughout a student’s tenure at the University,” Reitz said. “Sexual consent must be, as our code articulates, ‘informed, freely, and actively given.’”
Jillian Gilchrest, the senior policy adviser for the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said in a statement that the bill will help establish a positive environment on college campuses that promotes respect and clarity.
“Passage of this bill helps shift the culture away from one that assumes women’s bodies are there for the taking to a culture of autonomy and mutual respect,” the statement said. “Affirmative Consent is simply a standard that, when an alleged campus sexual assault is reported to college administration, helps clarify what took place.”