Regents Finalize Affirmative Consent, MSA Fails to Educate Students



At their September 11th meeting the University of Minnesota Board of Regents approved final implementation of the university’s new affirmative consent policy. The introduction of the revised policy, discussion, and vote all lasted just under five minutes at the meeting.

Affirmative consent is a new sexual assault policy that requires individuals to give “clear and unambiguous words or actions” as consent before engaging in sexual activity. The policy originates from the 2014 California Senate Bill 967, which requires all public universities in California to adopt affirmative consent. Since then, New York has passed a similar law, and other universities around the country have implemented their own versions.

As reported over the summer, the affirmative consent policy on campus sparked debate at the Board of Regents meeting in July. At that meeting, Regent Michael Hsu raised concerns saying that the Regents had not seen a legal opinion regarding the policy. Hsu’s concerns led to University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler, who was an early supporter of the policy, to agree to postpone the implementation until the September meeting.

The decision to postpone the policy was later reversed as leadership from the Minnesota Student Association (MSA,) and Kaler argued that the university needed to have the policy in place before the beginning of the school year. Specifically, they wanted to have the policy in place to educate the incoming freshman at the university’s Welcome Week, which is a full week orientation about campus. On this basis, the Regents’ Chair Dean Johnson and Vice-Chair David McMillian allowed the immediate implementation of the policy, on August 24th.

“Really, if we didn’t implement it by this Welcome Week, there’s no point in implementing it this year” said Joelle Stangler in an interview with the Star Tribune.

Theo Menon is a former Post-Secondary Education Options (PSEO) student and current freshman at the university.

“I did not learn about affirmative consent during Welcome Week,” said Menon.

He then added that the only time he heard the words “affirmative consent” was at the optional “Let’s Talk About Sex” seminar. Even there it was only brought up by a participant asking a question to the person running the seminar.

At the September Regents meeting, Kaler said, “I also appreciate the involvement, guidance, and advocacy for this policy by our student government groups.”

Menon also served on MSA’s University Policy and Student Concerns (UPSC) committee last year as a PSEO representative. Menon said he “never once” had the chance to vote on affirmative consent in spite of his position in UPSC. He also stated that it was not mentioned in any MSA spring meetings.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate policy for our campus,” Menon said. “It gives too much power to the university without really respecting law enforcement and the role that they can play.”

“The very essence of affirmative consent means that anybody accused will be guilty until they’re proven innocent, and it will be nearly impossible to prove your innocence,” said Molly K. Olson.

Olson is a Minnesota-based advocate for Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE). Olson said that while she agrees that sexual assault is a very serious issue, she believes that the policy will have far more negatives effects than positive ones.

A problem of affirmative consent that Olson points out is the potential for litigation against the university. She pointed to cases from University of California – San Diego, and University of Tennessee – Chattanooga, where affirmative consent cases were tried in the traditional judicial system. In both cases, the respective suspension and expulsion of the accused students were overturned. Olson said that there are no such cases to her knowledge where a university has won.

Despite the finalization of the University of Minnesota policy it is clear that the affirmative consent debate will continue both in Minnesota and across the country.