At the urging of students, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities have formally adopted an "affirmative consent" rule to clarify what constitutes sexual assault.

And the new standard will apply not only to students, but to employees and the board of trustees.

The rule, which trustees approved Wednesday, changes how "consent" is defined under the board's sexual violence policy.

It says that consent must be "expressed either by words or clear, unambiguous, and affirmative words or actions." Otherwise, under the policy, students, faculty or staff could be held responsible for sexual misconduct.

The change was promoted by Students United, which represents students at the seven Minnesota State universities, and endorsed by the system's unions and other groups. It mirrors the "affirmative consent" rules that have swept colleges and universities across the country.

"We as a union have done training with our faculty members about what the ground rules are," said Kathryn Engdahl, an attorney with the Inter Faculty Union. "This actually, I think, makes it clearer. It gives some greater clarity to exactly what consent means, to where you draw the line."

Officials said the rules would apply to allegations of sexual misconduct at any university or college event, on or off campus.

In an act of solidarity, the trustees voted to add themselves to the list covered by the new policy. "I think it's more than symbolic," said Michael Vekich, the board chairman. "It totally ties us together with this policy."

Under the rules, students and employees found responsible for sexual misconduct could face a range of disciplinary actions, up to expulsion or firing.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384