Workshops promoting sex-related discussion begin

Over 40 students will meet weekly throughout the spring as part of a series of discussion workshops on sex-related topics run by the Sexual Literacy Forum (SeLF).

SeLF, which was formed last spring to provide an outlet for discussing issues about sexual culture on campus, has organized an 11-week discussion program that covers topics such as masturbation, birth control and setting sexual boundaries in small-group sessions facilitated by students. Five pilot workshops held last fall received positive feedback, and this semester’s program will consist of four sessions per week with 10 students in each session beginning Jan. 20. Workshop organizers said the program fits into the University’s existing sexual awareness resources because it allows students to process information learned in other sex education programs.

“Most existing groups are about receiving information, where people sit down and listen,” said SeLF Co-Director Paulina Haduong ’13. “But now, with SeLF, they apply the information they learn because they have the opportunity to reflect on it.”

Nine trained student facilitators will guide discussion at each meeting using short activities and simple homework assignments to foster conversation, said SeLF Co-Director Hannah Slater ’13. Students could apply to participate in the workshops online in December, and all students that applied were accepted, she said.

Participants in the spring semester workshops represent a diverse cross-section of the campus, Slater said, with an even spread across class years, ethnicities and religions. She said the participants also possess a wide range of interests, and several students are involved with Greek life, including two facilitators who are members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. She added that the ratio of female to male participants is 2 to 1. By helping a diverse group of students get to know each other, the program promotes a healthier sexual climate on campus because it furthers understanding among peers, she said.

“The people this semester were artists, a cappella, varsity athletes, WGSS majors — not people who would necessarily sit around for two hours a week talking about their sexual experiences together,” SeLF facilitator Grace Zimmerly ’13 said.

In addition to being entirely student-run, Slater said, SeLF differs from University-run programs because the group addresses a broader range of topics than sex education, such as pornography. Carole Goldberg, director of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Center, said that SeLF organizers have met with administrators, including Assistant Dean Melanie Boyd ’90 and SHARE Center staff, to prevent overlap between their program and resources offered by the University.

Students often build friendships within discussion groups, Slater said, and the conversations are intended to center on personal experiences that extend beyond intellectual discussion. Haduong said students who participated in the pilot sessions told organizers that they found the sessions more intimate than they had expected.

At the meetings, all information is confidential and attendance is mandatory so participants can build trust as well as form a sense of community, Slater said. She added that a student’s status in the program comes under review after missing more than two sessions.

Participant Giuliana Berry ’14, who signed up for the spring program after attending a pilot workshop in November, said she enjoys the program because it fosters an environment that feels safe, allowing students to “collaboratively teach each other.”

Students can apply to be facilitators once they complete the workshops.

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