Patel: Know the true meaning of consent before you hook up

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Patel: Know the true meaning of consent before you hook up

Meera Patel, Columnist

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When you think about the things that make a party fun, what do you think of? You think of the chance to hang out with friends, get to know a few new people – but there are varying levels of “getting to know” someone.

That’s why I dislike the term “hook up” so much. It’s vague and it doesn’t fully make your intentions clear, which makes the comprehensive meaning of consent trickier to define. Even if you ask if someone wants to “hook up,” they may not know what you mean or how far you want to go.

As of Sept. 28, the governor of California signed into law legislation defining consent as an “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Why is it important to have an official, state-approved definition of consent?

Consent issues often stem from misunderstandings. That’s why it is so prevalent in conversations recently; you can’t fully consent to something unless you are completely aware of what you are agreeing to by consenting. This plays into the sexual assault policy revisions that NU has made in the past year, which require that a person be sober and consciously aware of what he or she is agreeing to.

This summer, I attended my sorority’s national convention, where we heard Allen Groves, the Dean of Students at the University of Virginia, go over federal initiatives relating to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and sexual assault policies and remediation on college campuses. We discussed the progress on federal guidelines and requirements of compliance the government is looking to institute for public universities. It is good that the government and universities are getting involved and trying to solve the issues that arise from sexual assault charges on campus. It’s even better that they’re trying to standardize the definitions of consent and mediation practices across different institutions in our country.

But we need to do more as students. We need to change some unofficial systems we have at our schools. We need to change the way we think about our interactions with each other.

People go to parties with different goals in mind. I go to parties to hang out with my friends and meet people; others may go to parties to look for someone to hook up with. It makes me sad that oftentimes these situations become a venue for rape and sexual assault.

One reason rape and sexual assault happen so often is simple. Intentions can be misunderstood. Ignorance about what consent really is can lead to people doing things they don’t realize are wrong until much later. If we’re not educating ourselves on what’s okay and what isn’t, we increase our risk of committing rape or sexual assault.

If people don’t recognize the signs of non-consent, if they don’t realize that someone is too intoxicated to agree to anything, they may find themselves in trouble later.

What about those people who aren’t looking for anything?

It’s not like you can walk into a party wearing a sign that says “I am not interested in hooking up.” You would look ridiculous.

But without the sign you face the issue of having to shake off people who make unwanted advances. And there’s always a chance that they won’t listen  – which we need to address with better education of what is appropriate, especially to new students who may not be as aware of the dangers of going to a party and “hooking up.”

We need to make sure more of our students are aware of what the policies we have in place actually mean and what it means for their hook ups. We as students are affected by sexual assault — if we don’t change how we think, how can we expect change?

Meera Patel is a McCormick senior. She can be reached at meera@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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