Silence, broken up by students shifting in their chairs, was all that could be heard in Kemper Auditorium after the anonymous question, “How can I help my partner discover his prostate?”, was asked at the “With the Door Open” faculty panel. The event aimed to challenge the awkwardness and secrecy typically associated with sex education talks by holding an open faculty panel.
Last Friday, students filled Kemper to attend the event, which saw a panel of teachers covering topics related to sexual health at Andover proposed by students. The event was held by the Brace Center after a year of planning, and emceed by Dakoury Godo-Solo ’17 and Nell Fitts ’18.
Topics covered included Andover’s disciplinary policy with respect to sexual activity, the school’s parietal rules, the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center’s facilities and resources for dealing with issues of sexual health, and general information on healthy relationships.
“What really got the ball rolling was that there was a sort of revelation for some people that, in some dorms, sex talks weren’t being had, and so this was really a project to make sure that all students had available to them the necessary information about their sexual health and things of that nature,” said Fitts in an interview with The Phillipian.
Questions were submitted anonymously into an online Socratic quiz, the address of which was provided to everyone in the audience. The questions could be submitted either before or during the event. They were then read to the panel by the student emcees. Audience members also had the choice of asking questions out loud if they wished, but anonymity remained an option.
Participants found that anonymity was a very important facet of the panel, serving to create a more comfortable space in which students could ask questions they may otherwise be embarrassed to introduce.
In an interview with The Phillipian, Godo-Solo said, “There’s a lot of stigma surrounding sex, in terms of having it, but also not having it. So, since it was a very sex-positive space, for someone who’s chosen not to engage in sexual activity for whatever reasons, it’s nice to be able to have everyone hold back and not feel like since you aren’t asking questions you aren’t engaging.”
The adults on the panel were chosen for their positions on campus, which placed each of them in a unique place to talk about different aspects of sexuality and relationships at Andover.
David Farnsworth, Psychological Counselor and Wellness Educator at the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center said in an interview with The Phillipian, “To have a bunch of teenagers who are dealing with their hormones, or are curious, or wondering, it’s so easy for them to find depictions, maybe on the internet, of a lot of the stuff they’re wondering about.”
“I think what’s out there could be confusing, it could be misrepresented, images of beauty are twisted to be filmed, so I think that having real people in their lives just to join with them and answer those questions and give them more resources, or clarify what they’re seeing out there, I think that’s important,” continued Farnsworth.
Some students in attendance had not had any sort of formal sexual health education at their old schools or in their homes. Will Lam ’19 said he was surprised by the openness of the faculty during the discussion, a far cry from his previous abstinence-only education.
“Before this talk, I had barely any sex-ed experience since I went to a Catholic school. The school promoted abstinence and never talked about contraceptives or anything like that. When I went to this talk, I was surprised at how open the faculty were, but I think it’s good we can have an honest dialogue with adults on campus,” said Lam.
Jack Hjerpe ’17 said he was grateful that the discussion went beyond the typical biological explanations of sex that most schools offer.
“I had health class that definitely touched on sex, but it focused a lot more on abstinence. The panel was great because it answered so many questions that schools normally wouldn’t take the time to answer, going deeper than just the standard biological understanding that schools normally offer,” said Hjerpe.
The panelists and student emcees made it clear that “With the Door Open” was not intended to be a one-time event and told the audience that they hope to put on more panels like it in the near future.