Strutting through Paresky Commons with bright red lipstick, Andover’s ten Blue Key Heads (BKHs), the student spirit leaders on campus, delivered kisses to the foreheads and cheeks of hundreds of students last Friday in celebration of Valentine’s Day. In previous years, BKHs would methodically dole out their kisses without asking for permission, quickly planting the kiss and moving on to the next person. This year, however, the BKHs modified the tradition by deciding to ask for consent before giving each kiss to its recipient. This change in policy marks a turning point in efforts to promote and destigmatize the action of asking for consent on the Andover campus.
As prominent role models and leaders at Andover, the BKHs wield social influence over the rest of the student body. Their decision to demonstrate the practice of consent in a public setting is a step toward establishing consent as a ubiquitous and integral part of our campus culture. For the most part, students at Andover have only had the opportunity to address consent in formal discussions while talking about consent in an abstract way instead of seeing its real life application.
Because consent is private by nature, situations that necessitate consent normally happen behind closed doors. As a result, the BKHs’ public displays of asking for – and waiting until they receive – a definite “yes” enabled students to finally see consent in action and recognize how asking for consent from a partner can be both easy and enjoyable.
Kelly McCarthy ’16, a BKH, said, “We decided this year that we wanted to explicitly ask if it was okay before giving kisses to avoid any discomfort for all. Valentine’s Day is intended to be a really fun day, not a day where people who don’t want kisses from random strangers covered in lipstick have to hide out. For me, the whole day proved that asking for consent is not only so important, but can also be fun.”
The BKHs’ decision to ask for consent is a testament to Andover’s growing understanding that asking for consent is an absolute necessity. While the BKH policy certainly signifies progress, the issues of sexual assault and a toxic sexual culture are far from resolved. To combat this, we must continue to bring the concept of consent out of the shadows and create a sense of trust and security among students. Fully embracing the practice of consensual physical contact will require time and effort from many people, but it is not an impossible endeavor. We must promote a positive view of consent so that obtaining it can become instinctive for everyone on campus. Following the example of the BKHs, we must work together to create a campus culture in which all students feel comfortable and, more importantly, safe.
This editorial represents the views of the board of The Phillipian*, vol. CXXXIX.*