On Wednesday, March 6, the SUNY New Paltz College Council approved the new SUNY-wide policy regarding sexual violence prevention and response, nicknamed “Yes Means Yes.” Endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the new policy focuses on affirmative and active consent.
According to the University Police Department’s (UPD) Annual Security and Fire Safety Report from 2013, seven incidents of sexual offenses were reported on the New Paltz campus that year. Yet statistics from the National Sexual Violence Research Center (NSVRC) suggest higher numbers across colleges nationwide that include unreported offenses; according to NSVRC, less than 5 percent of completed or attempted rapes against college women were reported to authorities, according to a nationwide study conducted in 2000.
“Yes Means Yes” aims to prevent sexual offenses at the source by establishing the concept of “affirmative consent.” The SUNY Board of Trustees defines affirmative consent as “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in sexual activity.” This type of consent is “active, not passive,” according to a statement from SUNY via NBC New York. Under the new policy, silence or lack of resistance cannot be interpreted as consent before all parties engage in sexual acts.
Executive Director for Compliance and Campus Climate at SUNY New Paltz Tanhena Pacheco-Dunn explained that the new policy will provide a “uniform response program” across all 64 SUNY schools in the event of sexual offenses.
“It is important for professionals who administer sexual assault and sexual violence policies to have comprehensive guidance so that they can be as effective as possible in assisting individuals that come forward as well as educating their campuses,” Pacheco-Dunn said. “It is also important for anyone who is a victim [or] survivor to understand all the resources and support available to them so that the path to reporting can be accessible.”
Pacheco-Dunn said her team is in the process of updating the student handbook to reflect the new language adopted by the SUNY system.
“Every year, our offices hear feedback and learn from our experiences, and we review our policies, procedures and training to be sure that we are continuing to implement the best practices in responding to sexual violence and supporting those who come forward,” Pacheco-Dunn said.
According to Pacheco-Dunn, many elements of the new policy are not new to SUNY New Paltz. She said that New Paltz’s own code of conduct served as an exemplar for other SUNY universities on how to handle sexual offenses and provide support for victims and survivors. As a result, this new initiative will not result in any drastic changes to New Paltz’s current policies.
“We are very proud that our approach is one that has served as a model [for other SUNY schools],” Pacheco-Dunn said.
Students who experience sexual harassment or assault can contact Haven, a peer counseling center located in Deyo Hall. Haven has a 24-hour emergency hotline, which students can reach at 845-802-3383.