“Are you okay with that? I’m just making sure. Consent, yeah, it can be a cure,” read a consent valentine made at the “Will You Be My Consensual Valentine?” workshop held this past Tuesday, February 18. “Will You Be My Consensual Valentine?” was the inaugural event of the first Love Better Week. Created by the Brace Board, Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), and Youth Educators for Sex Positivity (YES+), Love Better Week was founded to raise awareness surrounding healthy relationships, according to Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center of Gender Studies and faculty advisor to the Brace Board and co-advisor to YES+.
“We might be in the relationship and not realize some things that are not really that great about it and [we are working on] feeling, recognizing, learning how to avoid that, learning to have conversations with the other person in the relationship, learning to be upstanders if we notice that somebody else in our life is stuck in these unhealthy relationships, what can we do to help that person, to help those people get to a place where they can have a healthier relationship… So that was our motivation,” said Vidal.
In addition to the “Will You Be My Consensual Valentine?” workshop, Love Better Week included MVP’s annual contraceptive awareness event, Cupcakes and Condoms, on Wednesday, February 19, and a forum on relationship violence on Thursday, February 20. The final event of the week will be a Keynote presentation by Mary Margaret Scharf, an advocate against domestic violence, on Friday, February 21 at 7:00 p.m. in Kemper Auditorium. According to Emma Slibeck ’20, a member of the Brace Board, Love Better Week serves to publicly highlight consent and relationship violence.
“I think the name of the week sums up the goal pretty well. Ultimately, we want everyone to feel empowered in their self love and relationships and to speak up for others who do not. Love also means consent and pleasure and having healthy relationships, and we all deserve those relationships,” said Slibeck.
Maya Shkolnik ’21, a member of the YES+, emphasized the importance of educating Andover students on how to engage in healthy relationships. Shkolnik believes that Andover’s hookup culture makes raising awareness especially relevant.
“I think Love Better is important to have at Andover because it’s important for everybody to learn how to act in relationships and engage in ways that are healthy for themselves and healthy for other people. But I think specifically at Andover, since we have a very interesting, strange hookup culture that I feel like no one really understands, the more that we can educate others, the healthier that Andover’s campus will be. I just think it is important to raise awareness. Even if 15 or 20 people can learn something new, that makes Andover a healthier campus,” said Shkolnik.
Vidal stressed that unhealthy relationships can stem from more than just romantic relationships and can also appear in familial and platonic connections.
“I think one of the things that we really specifically wanted to touch on with Love Better Week is this idea of relationship violence, beyond just asking for consent during sexual encounters, it’s this idea of sometimes there are relationships and not always romantic. It can be relationships between friends or relationships between parents and children and siblings and family members and romantic relationships that can be unhealthy in a variety of ways not even necessarily involving sex,” said Vidal.
Before participating in the MVP program, Harry Kahane ’20, board member of MVP, was not aware of the systemic violence that women and female-presenting individuals face, as well as the impact of the male gaze. According to Kahane, the joint efforts of the three clubs during Love Better Week spread awareness more efficiently.
“When I came to Andover… I joined the MVP program [and] I learned about what it’s like to be a woman really. That inspired in me the motivation to prevent that. It’s an issue that’s especially prevalent on college campuses and school campuses. A lot of hormones going on and a lot of adrenaline, a lot of socially awkward situations—and if we can learn how to navigate that, I think we’re much better off,” said Kahane.
According to Karsten Rynearson ’22, “Will You Be My Consensual Valentine?” was an important event as it highlighted how necessary consent is to Valentine’s Day. Rynearson emphasized that there are ways in which love can be improved during Valentine’s Day.
“[Consent] is the most important part of Valentine’s Day. Without consent, there can be no sex, there can be no love, it’s the most important step of anything. It is important to make it very clear that consent is something that is sexy. It’s a part of sex, but it’s not something that’s clunky or shouldn’t be there. It’s so central, and I’m really glad that we’re able to explore that here,” said Rynearson.