Columbia's ‘Consent is Bae’ Posters Panned for Appropriating 'African American Vernacular'

ashley.rae | September 4, 2015
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Columbia University’s new affirmative consent campaign is being criticized for trivializing consent and appropriating “African American Vernacular English.”

In order to promote the ongoing narrative about affirmative consent, Columbia’s “Sexual Violence Response” team created posters which read, “Consent is Bae” followed by the hashtag, “#BeforeAnythingElse.”

The posters are meant to be a lighthearted way to emphasize the importance of obtaining consent. According to an anonymous tipster, however, “this poster both trivializes consent and appropriates African American Vernacular English.”

According to Oxford Dictionaries, “bae” is defined as “a person’s boyfriend or girlfriend (often as a form of address)” and is a shorthand version of “babe” or “baby.” Various individuals have claimed the word has roots in black culture, although Time magazine asserts the word originated in the 1500s to refer to the bleating of sheep.

Campus Reform reports the complaints about the posters were initially documented in the Columbia University student news website, Bwog.

In the Bwog piece, the Bwog staff mentions the “Consent is Bae” slogan will be utilized as part of a mandatory freshman orientation presentation.

The staff expresses concerns about how the posters, which, according to some students, “trivializes consent and appropriates African American Vernacular English,” “could likely be one of their first impressions of SVR and its attitude toward sexual violence.”

In a statement to Bwog, the Sexual Violence Response team defended the poster by claiming it was “specifically created to speak to students in a more conversational tone, rather than a lecture.” The Sexual Violence Response staff also stated, “We hope students will continue to think, learn and participate in discourse about this topic beyond this one message.”

In addition to the student uproar (or one anonymous tipster), various media sources have also chimed in on the controversy.

Jezebel stated the poster, “feeds into a general and ongoing accusation that Columbia isn’t taking sexual assault seriously enough” while New York Magazine decried the poster as being, “Decidedly Not Bae.” In an Observer article, Sage Lazzaro writes, the poster, which is specifically dedicated to the purpose of expressing the importance of consent, is “indicative of the fact that Columbia University is still mishandling the subject of consent and sexual assault.”