In a bold and unprecedented speech at All-School Meeting (ASM) on Tuesday, Head of School John Palfrey stood before Andover students and faculty in Cochran Chapel to discuss sex. He spoke frankly about the topic of sexual assault, reinforcing the importance of the changes in the Blue Book that define consent as an “enthusiastic, unambiguous yes.”
This was a pivotal moment in Andover history: we as a community have acknowledged the importance of talking about sex on campus. We have seen that our teachers and leaders are willing and ready to engage in these conversations with us. Palfrey’s speech signaled to all of us, faculty and students alike, that Andover is ready to talk about sex.
We applaud the decision to bring forth the topic of sex during ASM. Furthermore, we strongly support Palfrey’s clarification that no student should feel pressured to participate in the Andover “hook-up culture” he mentioned. We recognize that young, new students at ASM might have been shocked by the nature of the speech, however, it is imperative that all students know and understand that while the dialogue surrounding sexual activity can make it seem as though everybody is having sex, 75 percent of the student body has not had sex, according to the 2015 State of the Academy.
We must also, however, acknowledge the 25 percent of students who have had sex, the 39 percent of students who have engaged in oral sex and the other students who have been sexually active in some form. It is important to tell students that if they are over the age of 16—the legal age of consent according to Massachusetts law—then they have the right to make their own choices regarding sexual activity and that one choice is not necessarily better than the other. We believe that it is important to educate students about practicing safe sex and making smart, healthy sexual choices.
Andover has started to increase measures to educate students about healthy sexual relationships. This week’s ASM introduced the topic, which will be further discussed in small groups during the designated ASM time this coming week. We hope that within these small group discussions, faculty members will encourage mutual communication, providing a safe space in which students can speak openly about sex. We understand that it can be difficult for adults and students alike to talk about these topics, especially during such a delicate point of growth in students’ lives. But in order to make our conversations about healthy sexual relationships as productive as possible, students must be made to feel that they can speak about and engage in sexual activity without shame.
“It is our job as adults in your life to help you make safe choices and to ensure that you know where to turn for support.,” said Palfrey. We wholly agree and creating an open dialogue about sexual intimacy is an essential first step.