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10/09/2014 06:35 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2014

Harvard Students Launch Petition For 'Yes Means Yes' Consent Policy

Harvard University students have launched a petition calling on the school to include affirmative consent in its sexual assault policy.

Their petition asks that the school's policy shift its standard of consent for sexual activities from "no means no" to "only yes means yes," mirroring a law adopted by California last month.

Three student groups -- Our Harvard Can Do Better, Graduate Students Advocating for Gender Equality and Harvard Students Demand Respect -- created the petition, which calls for a new "baseline for confirming that a sexual partner wants to be in that situation at that time." Our Harvard represents undergraduate students, while Harvard Students Demand Respect covers all schools at the university.

Students have been pushing for the change for months, but even now, Harvard's administration won't say whether it will join others in the Ivy League in supporting such a policy.

"Harvard has taken a number of steps to foster prevention efforts and to support students who have experienced sexual misconduct," university spokesperson Jeff Neal told The Huffington Post, pointing to such changes as appointing a Title IX officer, creating a task force on sexual assault and producing a new resource website.

Harvard College and Harvard Law School are both currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights over allegations they mishandled sexual violence cases. In July, Harvard introduced a new university-wide sexual assault policy, which instituted the "preponderance of evidence" standard for campus adjudications but did not include affirmative consent, despite student requests.

When the Harvard Gazette asked about the decision not to include affirmative consent, Harvard's Title IX officer Mia Karvonides said that "[t]here is no one definition of affirmative consent that folks reference when they make statements about who does or doesn't have affirmative consent." She suggested at the time that only Antioch College had "a defined affirmative-consent approach" -- although higher ed consultants say at least 800 colleges have some variation in place.

The other Ivy League schools do have affirmative consent policies in place, though they don't always refer to them as such. Policies at Cornell University and Dartmouth College, for example, both indicate a student must assume there is no consent unless an affirmative, voluntary answer is given.

In the wake of California's "yes means yes" policy, lawmakers in New Hampshire and New York are considering a similar standard. Public advocates are pushing for an affirmative consent policy across New York City schools, and last week New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) instituted affirmative consent at State University of New York campuses. Chicago is also moving forward with affirmative consent, as the city council introduced a new ordinance that would establish "yes means yes" as the standard at colleges in the city.

Though the policy has its critics, a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll showed a majority of Americans support laws like California's new "yes means yes" law.

HuffPost

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