There have been many moments so far this semester that have provided unique opportunities to scrutinize our campus’ sexual climate. Perhaps most notably, the Association of American Universities’ survey results evoked a range of emotional responses throughout our community. We’ve also witnessed spikes of discussion following the publications of personal stories about sexual violence and criticisms of University response systems. While these events received campus attention, there are countless other stories unfolding more privately around us. Having worked as Communication and Consent Educators (CCEs) for the majority of our time at Yale, we share the campus’s concern about the very real problem of sexual misconduct at Yale.
Our job as CCEs is to use our status as fellow students to help build a more positive sexual culture on campus. We aim to create more normalized opportunities for Yalies to consider their role in a community working to prevent sexual misconduct by encouraging Yalies to think about our everyday actions. We try to identify campus traditions and social dynamics that could lead to anything from slight pressure to sexual violence. If we address those root causes and rewind those situations back to their earlier stages, we can figure out how to slightly alter the course of events in order to produce a safer, more positive outcome. Our projects as CCEs provide tools for Yale students to recognize their agency to reflect and decide on what they want out of their time on campus.
There are a lot of different ways in which we can provide these spaces for people, depending on the situation. Take Halloween, for example. The CCEs have established a “cool-down” room at Pierson’s annual Inferno dance, which is happening this Saturday night. There will be a photo booth with costume pieces, chairs to sit on and give your legs a break, fans and water to literally cool you down. Whether or not you’ve been drinking, you can slow down for a second and think about your night and where you want to go. These kinds of spaces provide opportunities for people to think about their many options, and to choose the ones that feel right to them.
So why does it help to take a break and stop for a second? Sexual violence can start at low-stakes scenarios and quickly escalate into tricky or even dangerous situations. Dances like Inferno might be overwhelming and disorienting, making it more difficult for us to process the interactions we have with others. You might not recognize the situation you are in until you are given a moment to slow down, cool down and think. As a result, we are also able to better recognize the boundaries of others and how our desires can respectfully coexist with theirs.
It is precisely because we take sexual violence very seriously that we think about its underpinnings in everyday life. The same dynamics that can play out at school-wide dances like Inferno can be seen in much quieter settings as well, but the same thought process applies. We want to provide space for people to analyze whether the situation they are in reflects their values and desires.
The fact is, desire is both intensely personal and also intensely varying moment-to-moment for every person. It is not something that we can generalize across any two different people, let alone an entire undergraduate student body. This strategy of support and positivity may not provide dramatic resolutions to problems after they have occurred, but it’s an important step in preventing these scenarios from happening in the first place.
Everyone is on their own unique and challenging quest of self-discovery. One of the most important things we take from Yale is how to reflect on our values and our priorities. We’re not just talking about sex, we’re talking about relationships on any level, including between people who don’t want to engage romantically or sexually. When we talk about making a plan with your suitemates before going out, we aren’t talking about deciding whom to hook up with. We are talking about creating the night you want.
Our approach of positivity and self-reflection should not be misconstrued as an attempt to encourage a specific type of hyper-sexuality. The fact is, we don’t care what type of sex you are or are not having, as long as you and everyone around you feel respected. Our goal is to help each and every Yalie create their own cool-down space in their everyday life, so they can reflect safely upon their desires whenever they want. By making this a common practice for ourselves, respect can become the baseline for how we interact with others.
Sarika Pandrangi is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ari Zimmet is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact him at email@example.com . They are both Communication and Consent Educators.