3 Popular Ways Universities Are Defining Consent

How Some Universities Define Consent

Posted on 15 March 2016 |

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The Ways Universities Are Defining Consent

defining consentAs part of the fight against campus sexual assault, universities all over the country are updating their sexual misconduct policies with new definitions of consent.

Some universities, like the ones in California, are required to have a policy of affirmative consent—an issue that’s been hotly debated. But whether or not its called affirmative consent, universities are making it clear that getting consent is a mandatory part of sexual activity.

So let’s take a look at some of the ways universities are communicating this important message.

Affirmative Consent

Many universities are choosing to use definitions that require affirmative consent. This means that each partner is actively communicating yes throughout the sexual activity. In fact, affirmative consent supporters state that this definition replaces “no means no” with “yes means yes.”

Here is an example of an affirmative consent definition from UCLA:

Consent is affirmative, conscious, voluntary, and revocable. Consent to sexual activity requires of both persons an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person to ensure they have the affirmative consent of the other to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest, lack of resistance, or silence, do not alone constitute consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing and can be revoked at any time during sexual activity. The existence of a dating relationship or past sexual relations between the persons involved should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent (nor will subsequent sexual relations or dating relationship alone suffice as evidence of consent to prior conduct).

Explicit Consent

Other universities are requiring explicit consent as part of their sexual misconduct policies. Explicit consent presents the idea that clear communication that cannot be misunderstood should be part of the sexual activity. There should be no mistaking what each person wants to do.

Here is an example of the University of Oregon’s explicit consent definition:

Voluntary, non-coerced and clear communication indicating a willingness to engage in a particular act.  “Explicit consent” includes an affirmative verbal response or voluntary acts unmistakable in their meaning.

Active Consent

An active consent policy makes it clear that each partner must be a willing participant. The definition focuses on the meaning of active and passive—making it clear which behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable.

Here’s an example of an active consent definition of the University of Arkansas:

Consent is defined as clear, knowing and voluntary. Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create mutually understandable clear permission regarding willingness to engage in (and the conditions of) sexual activity. Consent to any one form of sexual activity cannot automatically imply consent to any other forms of sexual activity. Previous relationships or prior consent cannot imply consent to future sexual acts.


No matter which approach your university takes to defining consent, it’s important to make it clear that when engaging in sexual activity students need to get consent. And besides having the policy, it’s also important to provide examples and train students on consent. If you want to learn about our Student Empower training and find out how it will help to communicate your university’s consent policy, schedule a demo today.

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