This Vanderbilt Life: What is Consent at Vanderbilt?

Provided by Bosley Jarrett


“What is consent at Vanderbilt?” For the past month, I have been asking this question all around campus. When explaining what sexual consent means, and discussing the issues that go along with obtaining it, many students claimed that the problem lies in campus culture.

In this thirty-one minute podcast, I take a microscope to the sexual culture on this campus, speaking to sexual assault survivors, staff members at Project Safe, Vanderbilt’s Center for Sexual Assault Misconduct Prevention and Response,  and students from all corners of community about what it means to consent to sexual activity. Following the release of the campus climate survey on sexual assault three weeks ago, this podcast examines the roles that alcohol, hook-up culture, Greek life and victim-blaming play in issues of consent. As a cautionary note before listening, the material within the podcast is sensitive, and some explicit language is used.  

This podcast is the first in a two-part series. This first part addresses the culture of consent at Vanderbilt, while the second will focus in more narrowly on sexual assault specifically. It will take a special look at the reporting and investigation processes in particular. Next time, we will explain, in detail, what happens when sexual assault is reported. We will talk about Project Safe, about mandated reporting, Title IX and Vanderbilt’s Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services, and will hear from students about their own experiences about the university handles sexual assault cases.

What is consent at Vanderbilt, technically?

Vanderbilt operates under an “effective consent” policy.

Effective consent, according to the university’s policy, is “consent that is informed and freely and actively given. Effective consent requires mutually understandable words or actions indicating a willingness to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.”

The policy is exhaustive, addressing that the person initiating sexual contact must require consent, that consent can expire and can be revoked at any point, and that a couple must continually request consent during the progression of sexual activities. It states that one cannot give consent when they are incapacitated, or when someone is “unable to make a rational decision” due to alcohol or drugs.

Additionally, Vanderbilt mandates that sexual partners must obtain affirmative consent. The facet of this policy requires the presence of either a verbal “yes by word or action” before sexual activity, rather than the absence of a “no.”

The policy can be accessed in full in Vanderbilt’s 2015 Student Handbook’s Sexual Misconduct and Other Forms of Power-Based Personal Violence.”

Listen in above to hear about consent on this campus going beyond policy, through the words of students and other members of the university community.

What is the “Girl that Ratted” campaign?

Vanderbilt students changed their profile pictures to this photograph to stand in solidarity with a sexual assault survivor.

Two years ago, a sophomore woman had received backlash from the campus community after reporting a sexual assault. During the investigation process that followed her reporting, she revealed information about the fraternity she had been to that night. While reporting her own story, she mentioned prohibited activities that had occurred in that house that had gotten their entire fraternity in trouble with the university.

The community was outraged that this woman had “ratted” on the fraternity while speaking up about sexual assault. She was bullied on Collegiate ACB, an anonymous college-message board (that no longer exists). Andre Rouillard, the editor-in-chief of The Hustler at the time, wrote an editorial lamenting and criticizing students’ reactions to this survivor, coining the “Girl that Ratted” phrase.

Senior Julia Ordog, who was a sophomore student at the time, created the “I am the Girl that Ratted” Facebook profile picture to show her support for the victim-survivor. The campus was aware that a woman had spoken up about sexual assault and had “ratted” a fraternity out, and wanted to show their support for her courage to come forward and report the instance of sexual violence. This social media movement was meant to de-stigmatize the victim, and support her in her decision to speak out to university authorities.

—Sara Ernst contributed to this report.

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