The College held a panel to address issues of sexual health and education on Feb. 12. This event, which attracted an audience of approximately 35, was the first of its kind at Kenyon. The panelists said it was organized in order to promote sex-positivity and healthy mindsets regarding sex on campus. Sarah Kazzaz ’18 proposed the idea for the panel after developing ideas on the topic of sexual health, which she addressed in a sociology project last semester.
The panel lasted an hour and included an anonymous Q&A session during which audience members wrote down their questions on note cards and passed them to the panelists. Kazzaz said she was inspired by the recent media attention on sexual health spurred by the Harvey Weinstein scandal. She acted as a moderator.
The panel was advertised as an opportunity to learn about how students can constructively think about sex and become aware of the resources that are available to them through the Health and Counseling Center and Title IX Office. The panelists included President Sean Decatur; Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator Sam Hughes; Director of Health and Counseling Chris Smith; counselor and advisor for the Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMA) Nikki Keller; Karen Scott, Kenyon Professional Fellow and OB/GYN; Austin Johnson, an assistant professor of sociology who researches issues of gender and medical sociology; and Kay Burrows ’18, a senior at Kenyon and representative for specialized birth control research.
Kazzaz first asked the panelists to define “consent” and “positive sexual experiences.” Decatur, after commenting that the question was “historic,” emphasized that students’ attitudes toward sex have evolved greatly over time. Decatur said that a shared connection leads to positive sexual experiences.
Johnson said that sexual culture can be driven by scripts that lead to awkwardness when one person participating in a sexual act does not follow the other person’s script, and vice versa. He also said that generally, the toxic, gendered nature of the expectations established for men and women alike in sex can lead to negative sexual experiences.
Keller and Scott then discussed Kenyon’s sexual health accommodations on campus and how the College is trying to cultivate more resources. These include resources for abuse survivors and LGBTQ+ members of the Kenyon community.
The panel emphasized the importance of taking a sex-positive approach when discussing sex. Panelists offered definitions of consent throughout the event, including that consent “must be retractable,” and should “include thoughtful consideration that honors an ongoing respect for developing boundaries.”
During the Q&A, Talia Light Rake ’20 asked the panelists how the College could institute ongoing education on sexual health for students that surpasses the typical “Think About It” course required of first years. Henry Sun ’20 was curious how the Title IX office could improve their current practices and demand that survivors of on-campus assault who are unable to gain justice can be better served by the College in the future.
After the panel, Burrows voiced her appreciation for the panel and her personal opinion on how important it is that sexual education be taught to people “again and again.”