Our Harvard Can Do Better has cosigned a new petition renewing the call for an affirmative consent policy across Harvard. The petition is a joint effort between our undergraduate group and two graduate groups, Harvard Students Demand Respect and Harvard Graduate Students Advocating for Gender Equality. Be sure to add your name!
Our Harvard Can Do Better has been advocating for affirmative consent for over two years. In 2012 we put forward a referendum through our undergraduate student government in which 85% of undergrad voters supported revisions to Harvard's sexual violence policy including affirmative consent.
Then, this past summer, Harvard's released a new sexual and gender based harassment policy, which covers sexual assault. This new policy, the first revision in 20+ years, was drafted by administration with zero student input. It does not contain affirmative consent, or any consent language whatsoever, and we continue to feel that this absence works to the detriment of efforts to support survivors and hold each other accountable to creating a safe and respectful environment for everyone on campus.
This petition demonstrates a united student front across all schools at Harvard with a clear message: affirmative consent is the best standard for our community.
Our Harvard Can Do Better does not use or endorse the phrase "yes means yes." Affirmative consent shifts the burden away from survivors to have to physically or verbally resistance or protest; it requires us to cease conceptualizing sexual language or advances as consensual unless demonstrated otherwise and instead recognize that consent must be a continuous, free expression of positive agency. That is not the same as issuing a blanket "yes means yes" decree in ignorance of factors of coercion and other power structures that may compel a "yes." We have been disappointed by the pervasive use of "yes means yes" in the media coverage of the events in California and New York.
For a more detailed exposition of our position on affirmative consent, please see the following article we authored in the Harvard Political Review. http://harvardpolitics.com/harvard/defining-affirmative-consent/