No Means No, Yes Means Yes

On the evening of Wednesday, April 24, the Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault conducted their annual Take Back the Night march across the 5C campuses. The first documented Take Back the Night (then called Reclaim the Night) event took place in 1975 in Philadelphia, Pa. These events are ways in which communities take a stand against sexual violence and speak out against these horrible crimes.

One of the chants of the march on campus was “Wherever we go, however we dress, no means no, and yes means yes.” It was reported that when the Take Back the Night march moved through the Claremont McKenna College campus, some people shouted back at the march. In response to the last part of the chant, “Yes means yes,” some students shouted, “Yes means anal.”  

I debated whether I wanted to write the full response of some students because the last thing I want to do is give them a larger audience and more attention than they already had. I felt, however, that it was important for the exact quote to be used, because it is important to understand the context. In October of 2010, an incident occurred at Yale University in which members of a fraternity marched across the campus to a residence hall where many female students lived and chanted, “No means yes and yes means anal.”

Yale received complaints from students, but neither the fraternity nor the students in the fraternity were held accountable, and thus Yale created a sexually hostile climate on campus, which is a violation of the federal Title IX law. The case gained media attention, because, finding no relief from Yale, students filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education, claiming Title IX was violated. Finally, the case was resolved last year through an agreement between Yale and the Office of Civil Rights.

The response “yes means anal” that met marchers last week was the same that was chanted at Yale a few years ago. As a community, we must ask the question of how acts like those create and support a sexually hostile climate and rape culture on campus.

A common, and even convenient, reaction is to frame this incident as a free speech issue. I suggest this is not a free speech issue, because I don’t think anyone would deny a person the constitutional right to chant what was chanted. I don’t think constitutional rights are what are at play here.

The central and fundamental issue is, as I see it, “can” versus “should.” There are a great many things we all can do—from a legal standpoint. The larger question, and the question I believe we, as the 5Cs, should consider, is the “should.”

Should anyone shout, particularly in response to a Take Back the Night march, that a person who has articulated that they do give consent to sexual activity actually means that they give consent to be penetrated anally? I would hope that our collective answer is no, one should not shout that response. When no means no and when yes means yes, that is a sign that a culture of consent is emerging.

In March, Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum and I sent a draft of a newly revised Discrimination and Harassment Policy that took over a year to complete and includes very detailed procedures, protocol, and definitions for addressing sexual assault and sexual violence at Pomona College. This new policy, which will be up for approval by the Board of Trustees this month, was written by faculty, staff, and students at Pomona with the intention of providing clarity in the policies. The revised Discrimination and Harassment Policy clearly articulates the “can” aspect of what I am writing about for TSL.

As the Title IX Coordinator for Pomona, I will also be focusing on the “should” aspect of incidents like these, because that is as important as the “can.” Tragically, what often gets lost in our dialogue about sexual assault and sexual violence are the very real ways that lives are forever changed. The lives of the survivor, the survivor’s friends, and the survivor’s family are all changed forever. It is my genuine hope and expectation that, when looked at in those very real, human terms, not a single person in our 5C community would intentionally inflict that kind of damage on another person.

By reading this piece in TSL, you are now personally aware that chants like “yes means anal” inflict a great deal of damage to a number of people and reinforce an already problematic rape culture. Now that you are in possession of that knowledge, now that it is no longer a hypothetical or theoretical proposition, will the “should” take priority over the “can”?

I think it should.

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