By Sydney Spreck ‘17

In the University of Minnesota policy handbook, affirmative consent is defined as “informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.”  This newly adopted policy applies to the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, and works to enforce the importance of asking for consent before initiating sexual contact with a partner.  Policies at St. Olaf College likewise need to change to a standard of affirmative consent in order to combat the ongoing issue of sexual assault on our campus.

In the past few years, campuses across the United States have been adopting affirmative consent as part of their policy surrounding sexual assault.  On many of these campuses, including the U of M, student activism was required in order to persuade administrators to support progressive policy changes.  It has been the tendency of college administrations across the country to sweep reports of sexual assault on campuses under the rug in order to preserve their reputation.  Thus, initiating policy that brings the issue of sexual assault to the forefront of conversation, and which encourages survivors to report perpetrators is not in the interest of many campus administrations.

The St. Olaf administration is sympathetic and helpful to students reporting misconduct, but sexual assault and rape are still prevalent on our campus.  I’ve heard countless stories of sexual assault on campus.  Through my work as a SARN advocate, and through friends and acquaintances, I’ve heard stories of difficulties reporting and the pain of seeing perpetrators every day on campus.  I have also heard the stories of students who refrain from reporting perpetrators due to the complicated process of reporting and investigation at St. Olaf.  The problem of sexual assault on St. Olaf’s campus is much larger than what is reported to administrative staff.

The sexual assault policy at St. Olaf needs to change, in many ways.  The first step towards reform is to follow the lead of other colleges and universities across the country and adopt a policy of affirmative consent.  Adoption of a standard of affirmative consent would create less confusion over what counts as consent in an intimate encounter and would benefit St. Olaf students in their journeys to develop healthy and positive sexualities. In addition, adopting affirmative consent would bring to the forefront of conversation the issue of sexual violence on campus. This would encourage healthy dialogue about the importance of consent on campus.

St. Olaf residents and staff may not think that sexual assault is a prevalent issue on our campus, but low reporting rates mask the fact that sexual violence runs rampant on our campus.  This is a problem that needs to be addressed, whether or not we want to talk about it.  The first step to rethinking sexual assault and reporting on campus is to adopt a policy of affirmative consent, a change which can only be made through the cooperation of concerned students and sympathetic administrators.