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The Dating Issue | Magazine

After #MeToo, college students wonder: What does consent mean, exactly?

An informal poll of Boston students showed some are questioning how to handle intimate situations.

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The #MeToo movement has some college students questioning what, exactly, defines consent during a sexual encounter. In late February, I visited four local campuses  —  Suffolk University, Harvard University, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts Boston  —  to conduct an informal poll about what consent means.

About half of the 59 students I interviewed said they didn’t know if their college had an official policy on consent. And more than half said their parents have never offered advice or talked to them about it. Although only 27 percent said their opinions on what constitutes consent had shifted as a result of #MeToo, 39 percent said their behavior in intimate situations has changed.


When asked how they handled romantic situations in which they felt uncomfortable because things were moving too fast, many said they tried to avoid direct confrontation. Others said they are now more inclined to speak up.

“I think . . . a lot of us have been in that situation before,” said Nian Hu, 21, a Harvard senior, “where it’s kind of uncomfortable and sometimes . . . you say ‘no’ and you leave, but other times it’s . . . more complicated than that.”

Nick Stapler, a 21-year-old BU senior, said he tries to extricate himself from the encounter. “I think I’m one of the types of people who kind of avoid the problem rather than facing it directly,” he said.

Maeve Dickson, a 19-year-old Suffolk University freshman, said she tends to say she’s not interested.

“And if that doesn’t work, then I would pull up an emergency contact  —  someone that I trusted or even the police,” she said. “I’ve done that a few times to help get me out of the situation.”

Brooke Knisley is a student in an Emerson College publishing class. Send comments to Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.