All About Consent

We often think about consent in the context of intimacy, and on college campuses you may learn about consent in the context of campus harassment and gender-based violence policies. Consent is much broader and is essential in many types of relationships that you may have in college.

Consider this—you need consent to:

  • borrow a friend’s shirt
  • play music out loud in your room
  • hug a friend
  • enter a floormate’s room
  • sit on someone’s bed to hang out
  • be absent or late for a class
  • switch schedules with a co-worker
  • be late for practice because of a group project
  • stay out until a certain time when you are home on break
  • and more…

The Basics

You should consult with your campus student handbook or code of conduct for your school’s specific definition of consent. In general, though, consent is a clear, active and affirmative permission to act that focuses on boundaries and feelings.

    • It is never something that can be assumed or implied. The absence of a “no” does not mean “yes”.
    • Consent to something once does not mean blanket consent in the future. So even if borrowing a friend’s shirt is ok one week, you can’t go back into their closet next week to borrow it again without their consent.
    • Consent is freely given. If coercion and/or manipulation are present, consent is not. This means if you feel pressured, or someone attaches a consequence to your response, consent is not present.
    • Consent is reversible. You can change your mind at any time.


Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues

Consent should be enthusiastic, and understanding both verbal and non-verbal cues can help you navigate consent. Examples of verbal cues include spoken words, volume used to speak, and tone of voice. Examples of non-verbal cues include things like posture, body language, eye contact, social distance, and head or hand gestures, among others.

Take a look at the table below for examples of verbal and non-verbal cues to be mindful of in assessing consent. As a rule of thumb, don’t assume and ask for clarification or confirmation. 

  Verbal Cues Non-Verbal Cues
Consent may be present when

You hear an enthusiastic “yes” or something like:

  • Sure
  • That sounds good
  • Please
  • I’d like that
  • Go ahead

You see someone:

  • Lean in
  • Act attentively
  • Nods their head
  • Opens their arms up
Consent may not be present when

You don’t receive a response or you hear something like:

  • No
  • Um
  • I’m not sure
  • Maybe
  • I don’t think so

You see someone

  • Tense up
  • Pull away
  • Cross their arms
  • Walk away
  • Look down or away
  • Stare at you
  • Look distracted
  • Space out
  • Hesitate
  • Act passively
  • Shakes their head no
  • Puts their arms up in front of them

Learn more about consent as it relates to sexual and relationship violence.