Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. advocates for affirmative consent at GV

GVL / Courtesy - Curtis Hertel

Curtis Hertel

GVL / Courtesy – Curtis Hertel

Jess Hodge

When talking about sexual consent, the phrase ‘no means no’ is widely known, but the phrase ‘yes means yes,’ or affirmative consent, isn’t used as often. Michigan Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. is trying to change that.

During a town hall and panel discussion at Grand Valley State University Tuesday, Sept. 27, Laker community leaders talked about and advocated for the use of affirmative consent. Hertel was joined by Ashley Schulte, victim-survivor advocate at GVSU, Assistant Dean of Students Aaron Haight, student senator Malayna Hasmanis and Jesse Bernal, vice president for the Division of Inclusion and Equity.

The main point of discussion centered around the legislation Hertel has been working toward, which would change the way sex and consent is talked about in grades K-12. He believes this way, students won’t be blind-sighted when they get to college and have never been taught the concept of consent.

“Through discussions, we found that there was a lot going on that wasn’t taught in sex (education) classes and we’ve made massive changes because of that,” he said.

“One of the things we noticed was there really is no space to talk about consent in our current sex ed program and we think that needs to change.”

Hertel said to those who understand consent, it sounds like a simple concept. However, if students are not taught what it means, it can sometimes be confusing.

“It sounds so simple, consent sounds like a fairly easy idea, (but) it isn’t actually being understood,” he said. “Affirmative consent means affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. That is the responsibility of each individual involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmed consent of the other to engage in sexual activity.”

Another topic that cropped up was the idea of changing university culture around sex. Panelists agreed that culture surrounding rape and the way people talk about consent has to change.

“We’re not going to change this (problem) without changing the culture,” Hertel said.

This legislation Hertel is promoting is a proactive approach to sexual education and teaching children about consent.

This type of legislation has been looked at in other states, yet those bills look at being reactive instead of going back to the root of the problem and fixing it for future generations.

The idea of consent, however, does not have to be only about sexual activities, Haight said. It can be consent between two roommates on what items are OK to share and what items are off-limits for a roommate. It can be consent for a child to hug another child.

Panelists also advocated for peer accountability. If students were educated and knew what consent was, they would be able to hold their friends and other peers accountable for their actions.

“Don’t get me wrong, having faculty educate peers is very powerful,” Hasmanis said. “But that peer accountability is so important to say ‘that’s not OK.’”

The next “It’s on Us” campaign event is Wednesday, Oct. 5 from noon to 1:30 p.m.

For more information about upcoming “It’s on Us” events, go to