SUNY to Create ‘Yes Means Yes’ Sexual Assault Policy

October 2, 2014 Updated: October 5, 2014

NEW YORK—The State University of New York (SUNY) is expected to reformulate its sexual assault policy across its 64 campuses to use the standard of “affirmative consent” in handling rape allegations.

On Thursday, SUNY’s board of trustees unanimously passed a resolution, drafted in cooperation with the Cuomo administration, to create a uniform process of handling sexual assault across the entire SUNY system, including a redefinition of existing standards for consent and an amnesty policy for sexual assault witnesses.

“Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent,” the resolution reads. “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.”

“This policy will be one of the most protective in the nation,” Gov. Cuomo said after introducing the resolution to the board. “If it goes well on the SUNY system, then we will codify it and hopefully pass it as a law so that it’s then imposed on all schools [in the state], public and private.”

The resolution is a draft that SUNY administrators will have the time to revise before the 60-day deadline for its adoption.

“[Currently] within the SUNY system, you have different definitions of consent in different schools,” Cuomo said. “How can you have different definitions of consent? Consent is consent.”

In the United States, the affirmative consent policy was pioneered by Antioch College in 1993, which requires that sexual partners “verbally ask and verbally give or deny consent for all levels of sexual behavior.”

Similar policies have been gradually adopted by campuses across the nation, including several SUNY campuses prior to Thursday’s resolution. The policy gained further momentum on September 28 when California passed a law requiring all colleges taking financial aid funding from the state to adopt an affirmative consent policy.

Another tenet of affirmative consent policies is that prior sexual contact between partners did not confer consent to future sexual activities.

“Consent is required regardless of the parties’ relationship, prior sexual history, or current activity,” reads the Antioch Policy, whereas SUNY’s draft policy states that “previous relationships or prior consent cannot imply consent to future sexual acts.”

At the governor’s request, the SUNY board of trustees has appointed noted sexual assault prosecutor Linda Fairstein to serve as a special advisor overseeing the implementation of the policy.