California’s “Yes means Yes”

By Fritz Parker

Lawmakers in California have recently announced legislation that would enact a uniform standard for consent education at the state’s publicly funded universities. But the most notable aspect of the legislation has nothing to do with the political uproar it has caused, and everything to do with the impact that it could have on the way that consent is framed on college campuses around the country.

For a long time, the idea of consent has been communicated to young people as a set of proscriptions against certain sexually aggressive behaviors. Those lessons are well-intentioned, but at their best they are an ineffective means of talking about something which is by definition an active exchange of communication. At their worst, the old methods of teaching consent create an environment of inaction and confusion in which young people often don’t even know where to start when it comes to asking for or giving consent.

What’s different about California’s ‘yes means yes’ legislation (as it has been dubbed) is that it enables students to be intentional and proactive about their sexual interactions – teaching them what to do instead of telling them what not to do. This is an important lesson for educators across the nation, and one that will inevitably lead to more engaged discussions about consent on college campuses, both in the official venues which administrators control and the informal ones which they do not.

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