DFL lawmaker promotes affirmative consent bill
MOORHEAD -- Even if Rep. Erin Murphy, the state's deputy minority leader from St. Paul, is unable to pass her bill establishing affirmative consent policies at all public universities, she says the effort will have been worthwhile.
MOORHEAD - Even if Rep. Erin Murphy, the state’s deputy minority leader from St. Paul, is unable to pass her bill establishing affirmative consent policies at all public universities, she says the effort will have been worthwhile.
“If we are talking on college campuses more assertively about the idea of what yes means versus no, it will change behavior, and that’s really the aim, right?” Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said to about 20 students at Minnesota State University Moorhead on Monday night.
The DFL lawmaker was holding a question-and-answer session on a legislative proposal she introduced this spring and hopes to pass in 2016.
The bill would require Minnesota’s public universities to adopt policies of affirmative consent, or consent by all sexual partners, that is continuous, unambiguous and sober. Last year, California was the first state to pass an affirmative consent mandate for public universities, and New York quickly followed.
On Monday, Murphy spoke about the idea that “no means no,” a longtime mainstay of sexual education that she called “not good enough.” Affirmative consent policies go farther, establishing a standard of “yes means yes” and doing away with the gray area, she said.
Such policies are already on the books at North Dakota State University, where consent is “an affirmative decision given by clear actions or words,” and Concordia College, where consent is “active, not passive.”
But the language is less strong in MSUM’s sexual violence policy, which mirrors that of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and is one of “effective consent,” said Title IX coordinator Ashley Atteberry.
At MSUM, consent is “informed, freely given and mutually understood,” but the words “active” or “affirmative” do not appear in the definition.
Last year, a task force of students and faculty discussed building the concept into campus culture, but a policy change would have to come from the system office - or the Legislature.
Murphy is using the interim session to drum up support for her bill, which she said hasn’t been hard.
“I have not heard from many people yet who are opposed to this,” she said. “Preventing sexual assault on campuses for our young people is not a partisan issue.”
Murphy said this issue is important to her as a mother of 24-year-old twin daughters, one of whom was confused in college about whether drunk people could give consent (they can’t). She also knows “too many” people who were assaulted in college, including colleagues in the Legislature.
“And I believe that we can do more to prevent that and reduce that,” she said.
Murphy’s bill would request that state colleges offer “comprehensive prevention and outreach programs” to at least teach students the definition of affirmative consent, and would set aside funds to create an affirmative consent curriculum for the state’s middle and high schools.
On Monday night, she fielded questions from many perspectives: One student marveled at how this concept could be revolutionary to anyone, and another questioned whether a bill could even make a difference in long-standing relationship culture.
“I think the really important thing that bills like this do is give us a public platform to have these conversations,” said Erik Hatlestad, a campus organizer with Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, which helped put on the event. “If Rep. Murphy had never introduced this bill, we wouldn’t be having this powerful conversation we’re having right now.”