‘Yes Means Yes’ Bill Would Require CA Colleges to Redefine Consent

If approved by California Governor Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 967—popularly known
as the “Yes means Yes” bill—will require all Californian colleges receiving
state funding to redefine consensual sex. Colleges will also have to
adopt additional policies to better investigate sexual assault and assist its
victims. Administrators at the Claremont Colleges, however, are confident that existing policies at the colleges will not require sweeping
changes to meet the standard set by the bill.

The bill was unanimously passed by the California
State Senate and now only awaits the signature of Brown, who has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto. Whereas the current standard to define consensual sex simply requires the absence of a clearly
communicated “no,” the bill first came into the public spotlight for a clause that said consensual sex must involve a clearly communicated “yes.” Though it has now been amended to require only that consent be “affirmative, conscious and voluntary,” the bill would still be the first
instance of a U.S. state requiring such language as a “central tenet of school sexual assault policies,” according to Reuters.

“What the bill is trying to do is bring some
clarity to a situation that could have a lot of ambiguity,” said Pomona College Title IX
coordinator and Associate Dean of Students Daren Mooko.

The bill’s passing would be “a significant step in addressing sexual assault on Californian campuses,” wrote Natalie Daifotis PO ’15, a member of Pomona’s Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, in an email to TSL.

“It’s a total shift in understanding on the legal level for
what is consent that is much more in line with how actual survivor advocates
and people on the ground on these campuses understand consent,” she added.

Title IX coordinators at Pomona, Claremont McKenna College and Scripps College said that the colleges’ current standards for consent are highly consistent with
the standards proposed in the bill. Consent has been defined consistently
across the five Claremont Colleges and the two graduate schools as a result of the
collaborative efforts of the Student Deans Committee, which comprises the Dean
of Students of each of
the 7Cs
.

“Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary,” Mooko said. “Consent is active and not passive. That part is very consistent with what the state bill says.”

Mary Spellman, the assistant vice president and dean of students and Title IX coordinator at CMC, wrote in an email to TSL, “Based on our preliminary understanding of the bill, we believe that our current definition of consent is consistent with the proposed statute. If the statute is passed, we will complete a more thorough analysis to confirm whether any modifications to our policy or training programs would be appropriate.” 

Scripps Title IX coordinator and Director of Human Resources Jennifer Berklas agreed with the assessment that current definitions at the 5Cs are in line with the bill’s proposal. Berklas added that the
bill will dictate specific policies and protocols that are already in place at
Scripps, such as “protecting the privacy of individuals involved” and
“providing comprehensive training of personnel involved in responding to sexual
violence.”

Despite the similarities between current college policy
and the proposed bill, the various administrations may still have room
to amend official policy. Berklas called attention in particular to the way the
bill identifies specific situations that do not excuse a lack of consent. 

She wrote
that while intoxication, for example, is already not an acceptable excuse for
perpetrating sexual assault at the Claremont Colleges, “the Student Deans
Committee and the Title IX Working Group may consider adding those conditions
as expressly rejected defenses.”

Should the bill be passed, Mooko said the next
step forward for addressing sexual assault on campus would be taking it up on a
national level.

“I know that with respect to this bill,
California is viewed as taking a fairly radical position on this issue,” Mooko said. “To me, it seems very common sense.”

He also said that the focus needs to shift from
advising students on how best to avoid assault and educating bystanders to the
perpetrators of sexual assault.

“What’s causing them to perpetrate these acts?” Mooko said. “Are there ways in which they can change their behavior?”

Daifotis, however, wrote that mainstream
conversations should focus on how an assault victim’s various identities impact
their experience and access to resources.

“Race, class, gender, sexuality, immigration status,
ability, religion, and countless other facets of identity play a massive role
in a survivor’s experience,” Daifotis wrote. “I want this higher level of
discourse to become the norm in how people talk about sexual violence.”

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