The Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) and the Student Government Association (SGA) held their Sex Week event series this week as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. SARU, a student group that seeks to dismantle rape culture and support survivors of sexual violence, aimed for these events to educate students on how to have safe, consensual sex.
The event series ran from April 13 to April 17 over the web conference platform Zoom.
Senior Class Senator Chanel Lee and Junior Class Senator Addy Perlman had previously introduced a bill to fund the events for the week. Alongside webinars and workshops about mindfulness and self-care, the programming included events such as Examining Consent in Media, Sex Toy Bingo, Sex 101 with a Dominatrix, Ask-An-Ace and a Self-Love Sex Chat.
Senior Deeya Bhattacharya, co-director of SARU, explained the purpose of having a breadth of different topics in the event series.
“Sex Week, as a whole, has been framed to cover different aspects of sex and different aspects of sex positivity,” she said. “Trying to navigate matching people’s needs in different ways has been an exciting part of this.”
Fellow SARU Co-Director Reah Vasilakopoulos added that she was happily surprised by the attendance at the events and highlighted the educational aspects to them.
“We had over 115 people at Bingo, and we expected 30 or 40 people. I don’t know if that was because it was virtual and people were more comfortable to show up, but it was exciting to see a lot of people come out and ask questions,” she said. “We were able to educate not only about sex but consent.”
The event series focused on consent culture, highlighting the importance on consent and the ways in which it can be communicated.
At the Examining Consent in Media event, Alyse Campbell, a sexual violence prevention coordinator with the Center for Health Education and Wellness, elaborated on the definition of consent.
“Consent is not only consent to sexual acts — which it absolutely is — but consent is also conversation and communication and how comfortable people feel in a relationship,” she said.
The event, looked at video clips from films such as To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Notebook, and organizers had participants discuss examples of both positive and negative portrayals of relationships.
For senior Claire Gorman, who attended the event, the portrayal of the relationship in The Notebook concerned her. She believes the depiction of a toxic relationship in a positive light can send a negative message to the audience.
“That movie is so widespread, and it encourages people to accept terrible and toxic relationships because a lot of time in those relationships you love the other person, and these types of movies encourage the idea that if you do have those strong feelings, it doesn’t matter... how they’re actually treating you,” she said.
Perlman added that she hopes that those who participated in the week’s events left with a new perspective on sex and consent.
“I hope that by the end of the week people learned a lot about consent and people will start to, and myself included, look at media and movies and everyday life in a little bit of a different way,” she said.
Other events, such as Sex 101 with a Dominatrix, focused not only on consent but also on safe sex practices. About fifty students attended.
The event was run by Domina Vontana, a professional dominatrix, who covered topics including BDSM, safe sex practices and consent.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Vontana elaborated on how her professional experience has created a clear perspective on consent and how it should be approached.
“Consent is ongoing. It’s not a one-time conversation. It’s a dialogue that can happen in the moment as well as out of the moment,” she said. “If you have it, you’ll know it, so if you don’t think you have it, you need to ask again. Consent is not a feeling. It’s when they say yes.”
Vontana also explained what she sees as the best way to approach having open conversations about sex and consent.
“First of all, meet people where they’re at. Provide them with really good information, research and data that’s solid. Then, trust people, empower them to believe they will take the information and use it the right way, and leave communication open so there’s a way for people to circle back to you if they need to clarify some things,” she said.
Freshman Class President Breanna Soldatelli, who attended the event, reacted positively to the information she learned.
“I thought the event was absolutely amazing, and I am so impressed by the host of the call. I’m really glad that SGA and SARU organized it,” she said.
Other students relayed their gratitude to Vontana and the organizers at the end of the event via the Zoom chat feature.
Lee said they believe that Sex Week had a positive impact on the student body. They also expressed hope that their fellow peers continue conversation about sex and sex-related topics.
“Overall, it’s having a positive impact on the University and student life. We have a lot to do to destigmatize the conversation we have around sex, bodies and consent,” they explained. “Moving forward, this is setting an example that we as a university and a student body need to care about things like sexual assault and consent and greater body and sex positivity.”
Soldatelli also looked to the future of Sex Week, citing the importance of its programming.
“I definitely want Sex Week to come back. It’s nice to get things out into the public and give people the opportunity to learn about what they might not have been exposed to,” she said. “It’s super important that people have this resource and opportunity. It’s vital to campus.”
For crisis support and resource connections, call SARU’s confidential 24/7 peer-run hotline at (410) 516-7887.
Editor’s note: Addy Perlman is a staff writer for The News-Letter. She did not contribute to the writing or editing of this article.