Consent isn’t Sexy — it’s Mandatory

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Editor’s note:  The Chancellor’s Office is a client of City on a Hill Press (CHP), and its current advertisements through CHP in the loop buses promote the campus-wide “Consent is Sexy” campaign. The business and editorial teams at CHP do not influence each other. The view presented in this editorial are reflective of our editorial staff.

Silence doesn’t mean yes. Not resisting doesn’t mean yes. Being drunk doesn’t mean yes. Yes means yes — and now, it’s the law.

Senate Bill 967 has created a new standard of affirmative consent for all colleges and universities that receive state funding  for student aid. The bill defines consent as an “affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.” The details of this bill are essential for students to understand, and it’s the university’s responsibility to create educational outreach programs to ensure understanding surrounding sexual consent.

UC Santa Cruz’s campaign — “Consent is Sexy” — belittles the complexity and necessity of consent. It’s a well-intentioned campaign, but its good intentions are outdone by its blindspots. The casual language of the campaign makes light of a serious issue and diminishes its efficacy.  Consent is mandatory, and shouldn’t be considered anything less.

The “Consent is Sexy” slogan didn’t originate at UCSC. It’s part of a national campaign to reduce sexual violence and change sexual behavior. The campaign has been picked up by a handful of universities across the nation — not including UCSC. UCSC’s Sexual Assault Facts and Education (SAFE) has taken the slogan and established its own campaign around the catchphrase.

The images and slogans incorporated into UCSC’s “Consent is Sexy” initiative are objectifying and alienating. Comparing consent to “knocking before entering” is an irresponsible way to inform students that affirmative consent is the law — not a mere common courtesy. Knocking suggests a warning, rather than an explicit request for permission.

The flyers sexualize consent, and inappropriately use sexual innuendos to appeal to students. “Think of it as knocking before entering” and “Don’t lose your grip on what’s right” subtly support the same mentality behind rape culture.

Last March, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) notified UCSC that it would be under investigation for its mishandling of sexual violence and sexual harassment complaints. Title IX complaints at UCSC were up more than 50 percent last year, and nation-wide reports show that one in five women are sexually assaulted every year.

SAFE is fighting a good fight. It’s right to directly address one of the most serious issues on this campus, but it needs to do it in a way that includes more student input and voice.

Students are the ones affected by this issue, and they should be the ones creating campaigns that they feel will be the most effective for their peers. Student input could’ve helped this campaign make the impact it hopes to, instead of belittling an epidemic plaguing colleges.

Consent isn’t always going to be sexy, or attractive. What if it isn’t sexy? What if asking the question feels uncomfortable or awkward, as if you’re going too far? People need to know feeling nervous is okay and you don’t have to be “sexy” to say no. Your heart might race and you might stumble over your words, but to imply that asking for consent should be a turn-on is misguided. Consent prevents people from unsafe and unwanted situations and advances. Sexualizing consent does nothing to curb rape culture.