Consent can be a serious and important topic, but consent can also be discussed through jokes, pop cultural references and raw comedy. While all college students need to know the facts of Title IX, a fresh sex educational performance Sex Signals proved that the information doesn’t have to be a dry, boring and heavy presentation.
New poets gathered in the Graham Athletic Center (GAC) on the second day of orientation and were greeted by two young and energetic presenters. These two performers, Jessamyn Fitzpatrick and Chris Beier, are actors and educators that work for Catharsis Productions, a company that offers many different dynamic and creative education programs for colleges around the country. Sex Signals is intended to entertain, educate and dissolve student’s stigmas surrounding sex.
Sex Signals was included in the first-year orientation because of a push from Assistant Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Schrock. In 2015, orientation included a lecture about Title IX that educated students on laws regarding sexual assault but it didn’t engage them, so a program called Sex Signals was a new and interesting way to open up discussion a vital topic. The program was also presented to fall sport athletes and society members on Tuesday September 6, and was generally received well.
“Sex Signals is a nationally known program,” Shrock said. “Many college campuses bring this program to their campus to educate students about consent, sex, hookups, dating and all the topics that are really important to them.”
The Dean of Students Office have wanted to bring Sex Signals to campus for years. This year, the staff from the Leadership Experiences and Programming Office (LEAP) saw the presentation at a conference and thought it would be an important addition to orientation. The enthusiasm and recommendation from LEAP lead the Dean of Students Office to finally invite Sex Signals for orientation.
Fitzpatrick and Beier asked their audience what high school sex education taught them, and encouraged new students to share with them what they learned. Some students shouted out that they had learned about sexually transmitted diseases and the biology of sex, but not much beyond that. Fitzpatrick and Beier assured their audience that they were going to be real and open with them and talk about the realities of sex and hooking up in college.
Throughout the performance, Fitzpatrick and Beier alternated between talking directly with the new students and acting out different improvisation scenarios. Throughout their skits playing college students at parties and social events they integrated in references to current music and T.V., as well as asked students to participate in creating the scenarios they acted out.
Beier and Fitzpatrick gave the power to the students by asking them what their characters should act like, whether they would be cool and smooth or nerdy and shy. They also asked first-years to decide the setting of their skits, and they were able to take their education into their own hands.
The casual and entertaining format kept students interested and throughout the presentation more and more students answered questions and shared their thoughts. “I think that the key is to make it as relatable and real as possible, and we use humor because that’s a way to open up the conversation and engage participation,” Beier said.
Sex Signals covered the dangers of stereotyping, the connotations of rape, consent and the culture surrounding sex throughout young adults. The speakers discussed recent events, such as Stanford student Brock Turner’s short sentence for rape, and connected their talk to real world issues. In one improvisation scene, they posed questions surrounding sexual expectations, drinking, nude photos and what is and isn’t okay. Students comfortably asked questions and called out what they saw that wasn’t okay, and there were so many students who raised their hands that not all were able to be called on.
Students connected with the performers while also learning about the importance of understanding Title IX and consent, but weren’t forced to listen to a lecture. “When you run the risk of death by PowerPoint, people don’t always leave with action items, they get a lot of information,” Fitzpatrick said. “What I love about this format, both with it being humorous and interactive, we always try and turn it back to the students so that they leave with actual tangible things they can say and do, which I think feels a lot more empowering than just getting information about such a heavy topic.”
Some students felt as though it lacked vital information about Title IX but were still engaged with the presentation. “It was pretty entertaining, but I didn’t think it was that realistic,” first-year Christina Prestella said. Other students were surprised by the comedy and the format. “It was very different than anything I had in high school, they were more open,” first-year Amanda Rodriguez said. “It wasn’t like what I know my friends had on other college campuses.”
“It was a really lively presentation and I think a lot of the first-years expected the same lecture they’ve been hearing or reading. I think it was refreshing for all of them. That was different from my first-year experience,” sophomore peer mentor Grace Creelman said. “It still wasn’t as inclusive as a presentation, I don’t know that the students were as focused on the information. Trans and LGBT inclusivity were also mentioned as an afterthought. I know that that presentation was made with the understanding that most of the first-year students are going to be cis, straight people engaging in heterosexual relationships, but the fact that LGBT individuals were included as an afterthought was a bit of a slap in the face.”
Athletes and society members were just as enthusiastic about participating in the presentation and while some students felt it was entertaining, returning students also saw underlying issues. “I think they had the right idea but their presentation was just a lot thrown at the audience and could be hard to follow,” junior Hannah Martin said. “They tried to incorporate ideas about healthy sex like it was a conversation, but it just came off awkward and not that relatable.”
Sophomore Marissa Sandoval agreed that the presentation wasn’t clear. “The overall meaning was scattered and at times the audience could be distracting,” Sandoval said. “The overall message was positive, but maybe should be thought out a bit more so the presentation flows better.
The performance did reach a few students in a positive way through the format. “With improvisation of examples of real life situations, it highlighted better ways to handle and note sexual assault and instances of rape,” junior Rudy Marquez said, adding that he would recommend the performance to other colleges.