Friday, December 2, 2011

How do we encourage positive sexuality on campus?

Recently, there was a Brown Bag where a some members of Colgate's Conduct Board discussed the role of the Board. The panel included students, professors, an administrator. The Brown Bag's topic coincided with a project I did this semester for Professor Darby's Language and Gender class (Prof Darby was also one of the panelists).
For this Colgate Workplace Gender Styles paper, I had interview someone who works at Colgate and discuss how language and gender is related to their work on this campus. I interviewed Kim Taylor, Dean of the Sophomore Year Experience, also a panelist.
My initial focus of the project was strictly focused on the language of Colgate's Policy on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment and the issue of "what is consent?" However, talking to Kim, she raised a very interesting idea that I believe is key to effective consent and prevention of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.
Kim talked about her experience being involved with Yes Means Yes, a positive sexuality discussion group. She described a group of mostly women discussing sexual desire saying that "I really don't know, I've never really felt that way, I've never felt a single desire, I don't know what that means, I just know what I'm supposed to do." Kim connects the issue that this lack of talk about sex to sexual misconduct by saying that "you can't give good consent if you don't know what it is you want."
To know what it is you want, you need to be educated about it, and education requires talk. But before we think about how we talk about sex, we need to figure out how make it safe and comfortable for people on this campus to talk about sex.
Culturally and socially, there is a taboo around sex. Nobody really wants to talk about it because it is very personal. And amongst college students, and especially incoming freshman, peoples' experiences and personal beliefs about sex and what is appropriate to discuss varies greatly. Being involved in Yes Means Yes before, I found the experience really enlightening and liberating. However, everyone who participated were more or less already interested in gender, sex, and sexuality. This culture of positive sexuality needs to spread beyond those who take women's studies classes or go to women's studies Brown Bags, it needs to permeate throughout the whole campus.
Besides posters and pamphlets people don't usually read and You Decide during freshman orientation, what else can we do that is perhaps more effective? I don't really have any solid answer but one idea I really like is that at some other colleges, there are peer sex educators/mentors, students who advise other students. I see the benefit in this that students are more likely to listen to other students who have experiences they can relate to or students who understand what the campus culture is like.
So what do you think, how do we encourage positive sexuality at Colgate?

- by Catherine Yeh

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