Even the Yale College Dean’s Office is interested in Yale’s sex scene.
With the overhaul of its Web site this coming summer, the Dean’s Office will post a new student-generated essay collection under the title “sex@yale.” The site will include 500- to 1,000-word essays by current undergraduates, allowing them to reflect anonymously on their sexual experiences at Yale and their impressions of the sexual culture here.
The Web site will not be password protected, so anyone can read it, said Melanie Boyd, director of undergraduate studies in Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies and the new special advisor to the dean of Yale College on gender issues.
Laura Gottesdiener ’10, co-chair of the project’s editorial board, said she appreciates Yale’s progressiveness in supporting the initiative.
“The Dean’s Office wants it to be from the students, for the students and by the students,” she said.
The idea grew out of a meeting in October between Women’s Center board members and Dean of Freshman Affairs Raymond Ou. In the wake of the “Pre-season Scouting Report” scandal this past fall, in which unidentified students circulated an e-mail ranking the attractiveness of incoming female freshmen, administrators decided to consider ways to contribute positively to the sexual culture on campus, Boyd said.
Boyd said she wondered why Yale was no longer distributing pamphlets and holding lectures on sexuality, as it had done when the College first admitted women in 1969. In response, the Women’s Center and the Dean’s Office decided to create an online forum where students could understand the range of sexual experiences on campus.
“There’s a real need for students to have space to think about what happens to them and what they want to have happen,” Boyd said.
The Women’s Center intentionally ceded the project to Boyd’s jurisdiction because members of the center thought the project would gain a wider variety of participants if it distinguished itself from the Women’s Center, said Alice Buttrick ’10 and Rachel Achs ’10, the center’s former and current public relations coordinators, respectively.
Boyd now spearheads the sex@yale initiative as chair of a 22-person advisory board of faculty and administrators overseeing the program, which supports a 15-person student steering committee made up of undergraduates contacted by the Dean’s Office. While the advisory board provides guidance, the students manage the initiative, recruiting writers and planning the site, Boyd said.
English Department lecturer Fred Strebeigh, the course director for English 120 who joined the faculty advisory board Thursday, said the Web site will allow students to hear valuable stories from one another.
“What I admire about the concept of the sex@yale initiative is its goal of using many narratives that show, as the shapers of the initiative put it, ‘student strategies for creatively navigating Yale’s sexual culture,’ ” he said in an e-mail.
According to Boyd, the Web site is not meant to provide instructions, such as how to put on a condom, or other information about sex that can already be found easily online. Though the essay collection will not address health directly, Boyd said she has approached Yale University Health Services about linking to sexual health resources on the sex@yale Web site.
Boyd said the site will offer 70 to 80 specific different perspectives, following a checklist of experiences and backgrounds the site will ideally represent. Boyd and her recruiters have reached out to the cultural houses, athletic teams, and the international and LGBTQ communities on campus soliciting submissions, she said. The project’s design will be entirely student-determined, though the Dean’s Office will pay the small cost of graphic design, Boyd said.
Student organizers said the initiative will attempt to change Yale’s sex culture and overturn the perception that it is dominated by casual hook-ups. But Gottesdiener was careful to emphasize that the initiative is not against hook-ups per se; rather, it will elaborate on it by showing that sexual encounters at Yale go far beyond the hook-up scene, she said.
Boyd added that the content of the site will reflect core values of consent, desire and “being thoughtful.”
The five sex@yale student coordinators interviewed said they think the student body as a whole is dissatisfied with Yalies’ social standards and expectations about sex, and they agreed that fall of freshman year — which Claire Gordon ’10, co-chair of sex@yale’s recruitment board, said is “confusing and often very isolating” — is a particularly vulnerable period. (Gordon writes a sex and dating column for the News.) Gottesdiener said the online essay collection will “fill this huge gap,” providing emotional support for freshman.
Stephen Silva ’10, co-coordinator of Queer Peers, a peer counseling organization for LGBT students, said he thinks the success of the initiative will depend on how strongly it emphasizes open communication among people of a wide range of sexual experiences. Noting that the site has the potential to have profound effects on students’ early college experiences, he said it is important that the site’s content teach students about the different sexual ideologies of their classmates.
Leaders of the initiative added that they hope the site will endure for many years and will morph over time to include new essays and different perspectives.
The steering committee will receive the first wave of submissions March 29. The list of contributors is approaching 100 students, Gottesdiener said.