Affirmative consent arrives at U

Erik Newland

The University of Minnesota’s new affirmative consent policy kicked off in time for Welcome Week, even after University of Minnesota regents requested a delay of its implementation this summer.
 
University officials introduced the incoming freshman class to the updated policy through Welcome Week events, social media campaigns and community advisor meetings in residence halls. Some freshmen say the policy, which student leaders pushed to be enacted before the semester started, was introduced clearly and smoothly.
 
The policy describes affirmative consent as “informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.” Without affirmative consent, sexual activity is defined as sexual assault.
 
Students learned about the policy during the Welcome Week event Respect U on Friday. Respect U explores topics like campus climate and mental health.
 
Wisconsin natives Seth Campbell and Eric Mattson, two University freshmen who attended the Respect U event, said the affirmative consent presentation was easy to understand. Their high school also taught affirmative consent, they said.
 
Beginning next fall, freshmen will take an online affirmative consent course that will be similar in format to the online alcohol course for freshmen called AlcoholEdu, said Traci Thomas-Card, prevention program coordinator for the Aurora Center, which provides resources for sexual assault victims.
 
This year, community advisors taught freshmen living in residence halls about affirmative consent during Welcome Week. CAs discussed the policy with students in a casual format at house meetings, said Trish Palermo, director of the Minnesota Student Association’s campus affairs and student experience committee. Palermo wrote the education plan for CAs.
 
Palermo said enacting the policy before Welcome Week was crucial for teaching freshmen because they are more responsive to CAs during the first week than they are later in the semester.
 
As a CA in Territorial Hall, Palermo said about half of her residents had heard of affirmative consent when she began her house meeting.
 
After the University’s Board of Regents delayed implementation of the policy at its July 8 meeting to further discuss its clarity and legal implications, MSA President Joelle
 
Stangler created a petition on Change.org to push administration to begin the policy before Welcome Week.
 
According to the Change.org page, “By delaying the policy, we will forgo a clean implementation at the beginning of the academic year and risk attempting to educate people about two different policies.” Nearly 1,700 people signed the online petition.
 
The University’s Office of the General Counsel reviewed the policy, which was originally scheduled for implementation in July had regents not requested a delay. The policy, with a few changes for clarity, officially took effect Aug. 24.