When Student Union held a sexual assault forum in October, the majority of students in attendance agreed that nonverbal consent is not consent.
In response to the forum, a bill was passed on Tuesday, Nov. 2 at the Student Union meeting that Student Union President Cole Hassay explains as a “request that JCU have a verbal consent policy, which would essentially require a ‘yes’ from both parties involved. The request for a verbal consent policy is the request for more definitive language.”
This bill won with a 10-4 vote among Student Union members. Those in opposition were senators Dan Mascio, Jace McGavern, Kevin Gaul and Sam Alai.
“In the opinion of the majority of the senators in Student Union, a verbal consent policy would create less ambiguity in cases of sexual assault,” said Hassay.
Matt Hribar, vice president for programming in Student Union explained that the Student Union, as well as students, believes that current University standards are “not very definitive and leave a lot to be desired.”
The current University policy in the community standards manual at John Carroll states that “consent is mutually understandable when a person would consider the words and or actions of the parties to have reached an agreement to engage in the particular sexual activity.” This policy also goes into detail about how an individual is not able to give consent if under the influence of alcohol or drugs or incapacitated in any way.
“‘Nonverbal’ can mean different things to different people. Words make it more black and white. [The bill will] eliminate the gray area in serious situations,” said freshman Xavier Rivera.
The manual continues, “In absence of mutually affirmative words or actions it becomes the responsibility of the initiator to obtain affirmative consent from the other person.”
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students, Sherri Crahen explained that those in opposition to removing nonverbal consent from the policy believe students could feel verbal consent is impractical. She stated, “The fear is that they will not follow the steps because nonverbal consent feels more natural.”
“Body language shouldn’t be consent. The only ‘yes’ is a verbal one,” Hribar continued “Those affected by sexual assault deserve better than broad or confusing language.”
Crahen said, “The bill feels premature. I was hoping we would have more opportunities for more students to be a part of the discussion.”
Hassay and Student Union senator, Madison Chickos, started planning this legislation regarding sexual assault at the beginning of the semester. “After gauging the student body’s opinion and looking into current sexual assault policy on campus, we felt the bills we passed would improve campus policies,” said Hassay.
This bill has been an interest of Chickos; as she has known people who experienced sexual assault firsthand. As a sociology and psychology double major, she came across significant statistics in her classes. She explained that 1 in 6 women will be affected by sexual assault and 1 in 33 men will be affected in their lifetimes. “People don’t think these things are an issue on a little Catholic campus, but they are,” said Chickos.
Student Union plans to bring more awareness about the issue of sexual assault through the revitalization of the “It’s on Us Campaign.” This is a national campaign that encourages universities to take a stand to prevent assault and focuses on bystander intervention.
The procedure for making policy changes begins with staff in the Dean of Students office making a proposal to the vice president of student affairs. After that, faculty will have a consultation with the office of legal affairs and the Title IX coordinator.
Before making any decisions, staff in the Dean of Students office researched the policy change over the summer to determine what the best practices are. “We take this very seriously,” said Crahen. “It is an important conversation.”