In the aftermath of the “Stand with Leah” protests and national attention on date rape on college campuses, our Class of 2018 has had more inundation of information on sexual assault than any other class in Stanford history. In their “Think About It” (think Alcohol Edu) online class before coming to campus as well as additional sexual assault programming during “Facing Reality” at New Student Orientation, they have had multiple exposures to Stanford programming condemning sexual assault.
Tuesday night, the SARA office came to Donner, a freshman dorm on campus, to host a panel titled “Mating, Dating, and Relating: What’s Good, What’s Healthy, & What’s Harmful.” As a freshman resident assistant, I was charged with planning logistics for the mandatory presentation.
In emails back and forth with the SARA office, the Donner staff stated: “Our residents went through the New Student Orientation that incorporated sexual assault training, and they’ve had a lot of caution around the worst that can happen with sexual relations on campus. We’d love your presentation to bring in a little more sex positivity, and I think that would also increase the turnout.”
The SARA presentation did not meet expectations; rather, the overwhelming focus was on unhealthy relationships with little focus on what positive sexual experiences might look like. Skye Lovett ’18 noted, “The presentation was unnecessarily hetronormative.” Nick Salzar ’15 and a Donner RA noted, “I thought that the people were very nice, and I want to thank them for coming. I think that the information that is presented is useful for people to know. That being said, that is not what we asked for.”
Why does SARA wrap a talk that is really just about sexual assault with the title, “Mating, Dating, and Relating?” Peter Litzow ’18 said, “Although the issues they talked about were very important, I don’t think they necessarily represented the wider spectrum of intimacy that can happen in freshmen year. Most people are experiencing casual hook ups or awkward encounters in general, and information about that would be more pertinent to freshmen in their first quarter. ” Megan Calfas ’18 stated, “I felt like it was a conversation that’s worth having, but it’s not the only conversation worth having, and it’s kind of the only conversation that we’re having at these events. The way it’s presented feels very inorganic.” Hannah Pho ‘18 commented, “I think it made everyone even more uncomfortable than they already were. It was words off a paper that we’d heard before, and I wanted to leave the room so badly but felt like I had some sort of obligation to stay.” Anton de Leon ’18 stated, “These sorts of panels trivialize real issues.”
As a freshman RA, I am cognizant that many of my freshmen have limited sexual experience and would benefit from University-sponsored sex education. One freshman likened it to teaching abstinence in that there has been little acknowledgement from the University that some students are sexually active. When the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education (OAPE) came to Donner, they did a wonderful job presenting on how to drink responsibly if one chooses to drink. My freshmen have yet to hear a presentation about getting tested for STIs, asking for consent or how to use birth control.
The lack of effectiveness of the SARA sexual assault presentation as well as the negligence of sex-positive messages and practical information regarding sex that is being made available to the freshmen class is shocking. In the current state, Greek organizations have become a scapegoat for the University that needs to find a target. In 2007, Duke suffered a 4.6% decline in applications for admission after the rape charges against members of the school’s lacrosse team; I fear that the increased programming around sexual assault at Stanford is as much motivated to maintain our image of selectivity than as to protect and prevent instances of sexual assault.
Stanford, we can do better. Sex education policy should not just focus on the worst-case scenarios, but also provide information for how students can grow into their sexuality. By providing sex-positive programming to the freshmen class, we enable them to make responsible decisions as they grow into their adulthood.
McKenzie Andrews ’16 is an RA in Donner. She can be contacted at andrews7 ‘at’ stanford.edu.