Affirmative Consent Discussed in SCOTUS Series Talk

Photo by Steve Fallon

On Tuesday, as a part of the Supreme Court of the United States Discussion Series, Ramapo hosted a talk about Affirmative Consent and campus sexual assault. The talk consisted of short speeches from three Ramapo College staff members.

Kat McGee, the assistant director of the Center for Student Involvement and coordinator of the Women’s Center, opened the event by discussing aspects of the law. Any sexual activity without affirmative consent, she said, is defined as assault.

“There are two jurisdictions in which this can come up in. The one is the law and order piece, and the other jurisdiction is on a college campus, through our student conduct offices,” McGee said.

McGee defined affirmative consent as an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. McGee touched upon how it is the responsibility of each person involved to make sure that they have the consent of their partner. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean that there is consent. Consent should be very clear; there should be no ambiguity involved.

Kristen Kenneavy, an associate professor of sociology at Ramapo, talked about the sociocultural norms in regards to the matter.

“I want to bring to this a social psychological theory by two researchers called Simon and Gannon. They had this idea that much of what we do sexually is taking the forms of scripts. The media is an example of these scripts and is one of the primary places where adolescents start to discover their sexuality and first discover what it looks like when two people engage in sexual activity,” Kenneavy said.

Kenneavy mentioned that on TV, adolescents see images of two bodies falling onto a bed, and the problem is that when the scene fades out, adolescents are left to imagine. Simon and Gannon reference what is called schemas. These are kinds of social shortcuts in our brain. These scripts represent an easy way of navigating into a sexual encounter. Kenneavy says the problem occurs when we have scripts that demand we change our behavior. It makes it difficult in a social encounter to pull away from the script and figure out ways to reenact these moments in a unique way that represents affirmative consent.  

Marianne Dunn, a psychological counselor at Ramapo, spoke of the Center for Health and Counseling at Ramapo, and brought to the discussion the intersection between affirmative consent and counseling.

“We provide support, we listen, we validate and we would never blame a survivor for any reason. Survivors often come in feeling isolated, and alone. They tell us what happened and sometimes they believe it is their fault. They say ‘well I drank, well I wore this,’ and that’s really sad because it is never their fault,” Dunn explained.

She regarded consent as an ongoing dialogue, speaking on how consent today does not mean consent tomorrow.

“At counseling, they believe in the policy of stop, ask and listen,” Dunn explained.

“Well I feel it’s ludicrous that such a conversation is even needed in this day and age,” commented freshman Michelle Schneyder in response to the event. “Unfortunately, it’s been proven that these talks are still necessary and I’m very grateful that there are events like this one made to inform the public.”