In a deviation from the standard march to the Cochran Chapel, students and faculty dispersed across campus to meet in smaller groups in place of Wednesday’s All-School Meeting (ASM). Faculty members facilitated discussions on healthy relationships with smaller, more intimate groups of students, as announced at ASM on September 23.
“The main goal… is to just break ground in terms of discussion: making [discussion about sex] not awkward. The very fact that we’re talking about this and that the school is making an effort to get people into classrooms and talk about healthy intimate relationships and what these things entail, I think that removes some of the stigma associated with [these discussions],” said Denise Alfonso, Instructor in Chemistry, who led a dialogue with a group of Juniors.
While the general topic of these conversations centered on healthy relationships, different groups discussed a wide range of issues, from slut-shaming to Andover’s hook-up culture. Discussions also touched upon respect in emotional and physical intimacy, as well as consent. Ground rules to encourage anonymity and sensitivity were established in each group.
Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students, said that the increased demand for improved sexual education by students led faculty members to think about ways in which to spur conversations around such topics on campus.
“We’re trying to figure out and pilot a number of different initiatives to inform our ‘Empathy and Balance’ curriculum next year. This year feels like a really opportune time to collect information and to try out a couple of different structures and strategies for delivering content,” said Jennifer Elliott, Dean of Students.
The format of Wednesday’s discussions was based on feedback given by student leaders in Be LOVED, a three-day retreat for Seniors interested in learning how to build a community, and Personal and Community Engagement (PACE), as well as Proctors and Prefects. These student leaders requested a forum for sexual health conversations involving same grade and mixed genders, facilitated by faculty. The student body met with peers in their English classes in an effort to create diverse groups within grades.
“When you have a large group, you make sure that everyone gets the same sort of information and the same message… but sometimes it’s a little impersonal, and people might not totally relate. Having small groups provides an environment for them to discuss anything they might have heard in school meetings or outside of that,” said Alfonso.
Max Vale ’18 said that the mixture of boarders and day students within the small groups also allowed the groups to see multiple perspectives.
The event was planned by the Dean of Students Office in conjunction with Isham and Graham House. Faculty received training at meetings and worked with the Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Power Players and trainers from Mentors in Violence Prevention to gain context for the discussions.
“I expected it to be something similar to the talk that we have in our dorm… but we also got feedback from the faculty members in our groups, which was different. I really appreciated that because I got a better idea of what the faculty members know and think of the hook-up culture and the [sexual education] on campus,” said Lara Guvelioglu ’16.
Juniors will have the chance to continue the dialogue in the same groups next Wednesday. While feedback is still being gathered, participants have expressed interest in meeting again to further engage in the discussion. Students and faculty alike have praised the intimacy of the discussions.
“You can’t ever hear too many people’s [opinions] on a subject because everyone has something different to say… Everyone says it in a different way. I think it’s important to listen to everyone and their experiences… Not everyone in my English class is close, but it was nice to have a very confident group willing to share their experiences,” said Guvelioglu.