Thursday, November 18, 2010

The 2010 Teen Pregnancy Institute

This week I had the honor of attending the 2010 Teen Pregnancy Institute: Expecting Success For Youth And Young Families, hosted by the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy. I spent the day learning with other educators, counselors, researchers and advocates invested in improving the sexual health and well-being of teenagers in our state.

When we came together in one space, I really did start to feel like there are a whole lot of us – people who work with teenagers and care about them and have the courage to talk to them about sex. No, not just the courage, it's more than that. The ganas. The instinct. The drive.

I wish I could take each one of the attendees out to dinner and hear their stories.

My day started in Consuela's workshop on the importance of giving teenagers access to words, concepts, and images with which to imagine, assess, and ask for healthy relationships. She challenged us to discuss how healthy relationships look similar and different for teenagers than they do for adults. What are the components of a good date? What does a healthy first month of dating look like?

When I learned to play tennis at summer camp, the counselor assured us that she would tell us when she saw us swinging our racket correctly, so we could learn what the correct swing felt like.

Have you ever told a teenager that you thought something was healthy and positive about their dating relationship?

In my second session, I learned about specific ways to teach sexuality through a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) framework from Liz of Planned Parenthood. When her coworker Mindy took over to introduce the parent engagement component of their curriculum, Get Real, I was captivated by the overlap between our fears as sexuality educators and the fears that parents have when their children enter our classes. The tools that Get Real provides for parents are really just conversation starters. A simple question like, "Are there any kids at your school you don't like?" appears not to be about sexuality in all, but it can clear the way for exploring relevant emotions and communicating core values.

In the afternoon, Kelly from the Cambridge Health Alliance launched a conversation about what a sex-positive national culture might look like, using slides from this Slate article. What would it take for American teens to start hormonal contraception before ever having sex? What would it take for American teens to carry a condom with them on a regular basis? And, how can we get from here to a place where American teens have an open conversation with their parents about what they want to do sexually and who they want to do it with before they actually start having sex.

Can such a world exist?

It can in the Netherlands. (Watch the Slate slideshow. Really.)

To end the day, everyone gathered together to watch The Gloucester 18, a story about teen parents who made national news. I have so much to learn about the lives of pregnant and parenting teens. See this film, then help push back on the stereotypes.

Thank you so much to the Massachusetts Alliance On Teen Pregnancy for putting together this incredible day of learning and community-building. Thank you to each of the presenters for sharing your passions, and to everyone I met or reconnected with for showing up and stepping up.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

All Dressed Up and Nowhere Safe to Party

Dear Eve,

I know what you mean. I know, and it breaks my heart. I know because I once studied, slept and partied on a college campus, and I know because I have read about other college campuses. I know that college can be a time of extreme empowerment and extreme disempowerment.

I know because this morning I got an email from my university with news that a sexual assault taking place in a fraternity house was reported this weekend.

The Golf Pros/ Tennis Hos party theme is clearly sexist and objectifying of women. However, when the fraternity advertises a party by saying, “Everyone makes mistakes, but not all mistakes are bad,” that is evidence of rape culture. That is part of a culture in which unwanted sex is actively expected of girls and then dismissed as a “mistake” and promoted as “good.”

I know that evidence of rape culture is ubiquitous on college campuses.

What I don’t know is how, why, and what can we do about it?

I apologize for my silence since you posted on my blog one month ago. Your post upset me and moved me from the moment I read it, and I have thought about you and your words regularly since then. i am sorry that I have been silent. We cannot be silent.

How did you feel when you saw the advertisement for that party? What do you think went through the minds of girls who had friends in that fraternity, who were looking forward to that party, who talked for hours with their friends about what tennis ho outfits they could wear, but who noticed their friends made no comments about whether or not mistakes would be made that night, and what makes a mistake good or bad, and how to choose for yourself what mistakes to make.

It’s hard to be a woman on a college campus these days. It’s hard to find sexual agency and to feel safe. I don’t feel we are safe when I see those posters. I don’t feel safe, and I don’t feel that any woman who attends that party is safe. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that woman should not attend those parties. Because we should dance and drink with the best of them, and make great friends and great memories. But we should be able to go to parties and still have our bodies and decisions respected…

we should, but that is not yet the case for most women at most parties.  

Eve- what can I do for you and your friends? What can the health services staff and the women's center staff and other people on campus who want to help you feel safe and help you access empowerment--what can they do for you? What can I do for the girls at fraternity parties at my own university, to help them?

Furthermore, what can we say to the frat boys who made those posters and hosted that party?

Thank you, Eve, for sharing. I encourage you to share more.