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There’s No Such Thing as “Yellow Light Consent”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Minnesota chapter.


“I don’t know.” Discomfort. Silence. No response. According to AlcoholEdu, an online course used by the University of Minnesota to educate students on alcohol consumption and sexual consent, all of these responses to sexual advances are considered a “yellow light” or a “maybe.”

Interestingly enough, this “educational tool” stands in direct contradiction with the University of Minnesota’s Affirmative Consent Policy which states: “Affirmative consent is defined as ‘informed, freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in sexual activity that is expressed by clear and unambiguous words or actions.’” It doesn’t take a scholar to recognize that discomfort, silence, or lack of certainty don’t even come close to “clear and unambiguous words or actions.” Not to mention, under affirmative consent policies, there is yes or no. Under affirmative consent policies, there is no “maybe,” so why are we teaching our students that there is?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of the answer to that question. You’d have to ask President Kaler, who, oddly enough, was an advocate of implementing an affirmative consent policy here at the U, and told the Star Tribune that he thought it was an “excellent policy.” When I tweeted to him asking his thoughts on AlcoholEdu and “Yellow Light Consent,” I didn’t receive a reply.

There is, however, one question I’m confident in answering: Why is this wrong? Teaching our students that silence, discomfort or ambiguity mean “maybe” is wrong because the absence of a clear, informed “yes” always means no. This method of “education” tells us that if someone is silent, it means maybe, and if there’s a maybe, it can create a big problem that looks like this:

I reached out to students in various student groups using social media to hear their thoughts, and while many interpreted the yellow light to mean that further conversation or “checking-in” is necessary, many also said that this wasn’t made clear enough in the module. Not to mention, it’s scary to think that the idea of a “yellow light” leaves so much room for interpretation. One U of M student, Katie Price, expressed her concern, saying “Their sexual partner could see the yellow light as an opportunity for convincing or even coercion.”

So let me ask you, how many times have you been driving and gotten a yellow light? Probably quite a few, and I don’t know about you, but almost everytime I’ve come up on a yellow light, I’ve tapped the gas just a little bit, and gone anyways.

Lauren is the Her Campus Correspondent at the University of Minnesota where she is currently studying Strategic Communications with and emphasis in Public Relations. Lauren also works for a national nonprofit organization called Miss Amazing that focuses on empowering women with disabilities by hosting programs offering the opportunity to develop life long skills, build confidence, express themselves, and create meaningful relationships. In addition to her work with Her Campus and Miss Amazing, Lauren also works as the Public Relations and Branding Coordinator at Metropolitan Salons and Spas and as an assistant at a law firm in downtown Minneapolis. When she isn't busy working, Lauren enjoys reading, shopping, spending time with her family and friends, and of course watching New Girl. Lauren is an enthusiast for many things: coffee, Kate Spade, office supplies, home décor, women's empowerment, and pugs, just to name a few. Lauren's favorite quote (right now) is, "Give me some wifi, a pair of heels, some coffee and watch me make the world go round." HCXO!