Contesting the terms of consent
how university students (dis)align with institutional policy on sexual consent
Keywords:sexuality, sexual consent, conversation analysis, higher education
Universities’ sexual consent policies remain the focus of national media and government attention in the United States. Affirmative consent (i.e. physical and verbal consent) is increasingly the norm for institutional definitions of consent; yet these policies remain at odds with how students report consenting to sexual activity. In this paper, we examine how students formulate their understanding of sexual consent in ways that either resist or align with their university’s policies on sexual assault. Using conversation analysis, we analyse interviews in which students make explicit references to university policy when defining personal definitions of consent. We show that interviewees who do not align with university policy orient to this position as problematic and accountable, and conduct significantly more interactional work when defining consent. These findings illustrate the complex challenges that university students may face in articulating personal understandings of sexual consent, which may have consequences for policy and sexual consent programs.
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