'Red Light, Green Light' Game Puts Focus on Consent

Fraternity-organized game aimed to amplify conversation on sexual assault prevention.

Players run through University Yard, watched by official referees. (Zach Marin/GW Today)
Players run through University Yard, watched by official referees. (Zach Marin/GW Today)
October 26, 2015

By Ruth Steinhardt

In an effort to raise awareness of issues of sexual consent, the George Washington University chapter of fraternity Zeta Beta Tau and its philanthropic partner, Jewish Women International, organized 515 students Saturday in an attempt to break the world record for largest game of “Red Light, Green Light.”

The effort fell short of the Guinness record of 1,203 players, but organizers ended the day feeling triumphant in having met the larger purpose of initiating discussion about consent.

“The really important thing is having the conversation,” said ZBT president Nick Carr. “If this helped just one person, we’re doing something right.”

The game was emceed by Kyle Lierman, B.B.A. ’10, an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement, who helped develop and implement the “It’s On Us” campaign. It differed from the traditional Red Light children’s game in one respect: Players were asked to run when Mr. Lierman called “green,” to freeze when he called “red” and when he called “yellow,” to turn to a neighbor and ask for permission before continuing.

“This is the type of issue where you want to get as many new people involved as possible,” Mr. Lierman said. “So coming up with creative ways to get people thinking about it and talking about it is important.”

The game was the culmination of ZBT and JWI’s “Green Light Go!: Respect the Signals” campaign, which urges college students to talk openly about how issues like alcohol, double standards between the sexes and lack of communication can affect sexual consent, and how to be sensitive to verbal and nonverbal cues from a partner.

“The game itself reflects the signals,” Mr. Carr said. “It’s a way to talk about a serious topic, but make it fun and engaging.”

ZBT president Nick Carr addresses students gathered for the event. (Zach Marin/GW Today) 

The atmosphere on University Yard was festive. Students from Towson University and the University of Maryland munched pizza and tossed Frisbees alongside Georgetown and GW students. Young women in sorority sweatshirts danced in a circle to Justin Bieber’s chart-topping “What Do You Mean?” in which the pop star asks plaintively, “When you nod your head yes, but you wanna say no/What do you mean?” It is a question the event was, in a sense, aimed at eliminating.

“The framework of this event is about enthusiastic consent,” said Dana Fleitman, senior manager of prevention and training programs at JWI. “We’ve all heard of ‘no means no,’ but that’s kind of a problematic standard for sexual behavior. It assumes that everything’s fine until someone literally yells ‘Stop’ in your face. We don’t live our lives that way – we don’t assume everything is fine and ignore everyone’s social cues until we get yelled at. If we did that, we’d have no friends or jobs. So it’s weird that we’ve let that become the standard for sex, which is actually very intimate and risky.”

Players skid to a halt at a "red light." (Zach Marin/GW Today) 

ZBT members said fraternities and sororities have a particularly important role to play in preventing sexual assault.

“Greek organizations are such a big part of the social scene on campus, which unfortunately is where so many things related to sexual assault can happen—at parties, in social settings,” said freshman Enrique Covarrubias, a member of ZBT. “So I think it’s kind of our responsibility to help lead the conversation.”

Tellingly, Interfraternity Council President Keaton White and Multicultural Greek Council President Victoria Montero attended the event. So did members of GW’s administration, including Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller and Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad.

“At the end of the day, we may be separate organizations, but we’re one GW community, and I think this really shines at events like this,” Mr. White said. “At GW, we want to be the Greek community in the country that’s really taking on this issue [of consent]. We all just want to talk about it.”