Can sex on college campuses be managed by a checklist? President Sean Decatur tackled this question and others in a special debate for PBS’s “Point Taken,” held at the Aspen Ideas Festival on July 1.
Decatur joined writer Leah Fessler, Harvard Law School professor Nancy Gertner and Dianne Harrison, president of California State University at Northridge, in a panel discussion of affirmative consent, how alcohol affects sexual relationships, and the causes of sexual misconduct on college campuses.
“If one of the root causes behind sexual assault on campuses is failure of some students to see other students as full human citizens of that campus or of the broader society … that’s something that is deeply connected to inequities on gender,” Decatur said. “It’s also at the same time deeply connected to issues around race and class. That core concept of, ‘How do we instill a sense of the value of respect and empathy for all people at all times?’ — in a sense I think that is the core of our mission as an undergraduate institution.”
Decatur, who recently wrote an essay in the Huffington Post about efforts to fight sexual assault, also addressed the need to educate students on what affirmative consent means.
“Clear rules on consent are far from a magic bullet in any of this,” he said. “But I also think that clear rules and understanding of consent are an important place to get some of the conversation started. We have students coming in who are very both uninformed and unclear about what consent means. If we don’t actually give some clear terms to be able to have that conversation, that’s an important piece of the overall picture that we’ll be missing.”