What we should have had: Reflections on frosh sex ed

Opinion by Lily Zheng
Oct. 6, 2016, 1:18 a.m.

Content warning: sexual assault

Today is the last day of Beyond Sex Ed: Consent and Sexuality at Stanford. This 90-minute program, repeated over three days for the entire class of frosh and transfers, features personal stories from 12 Stanford students speaking on topics ranging from sexual assault to self-discovery to self-empowerment, all bound in a critical and insightful framework for understanding sexuality, intimacy and campus culture.

I am one of those speakers, and it is because of my experience working with Beyond Sex Ed over the last year that I can say this with conviction:

This is the frosh sex ed program I wish we all could have had.

It’s a running joke among many students that Stanford’s sex ed is and has always been notoriously bad. We point fingers at the endless flood of trainings, talks and programs we completed that seemed more likely to inspire fear than excitement, more likely to see sex as a liability than an exploration. “Don’t rape,” Stanford says, “or else.”

The vacuum left behind by such a cold mandate leaves little wiggle space for students who want sex and intimacy at Stanford. We know, vaguely, that aggressive and violent acts of sexual assault are not tolerated on this campus — but we aren’t given healthy and realistic models for what to do instead. We aren’t taught how to negotiate a hookup when alcohol is involved, how to communicate our boundaries and set expectations within relationships, how to make up and break up, how to be intimate. We aren’t given the tools we need to be good partners, to have fulfilling intimate relationships that meet our emotional, mental and spiritual needs, to explore ourselves and our histories with empowerment in mind.

Maybe this is why, as a community, we continue to struggle with sexual assault as it relates to racism, toxic masculinity, drinking culture, normalized non-consent and academic overwork. Why we find it so difficult to match our actions to our words, why after years of campaigning and advocacy work we’ve made so little progress on campus. We’ve got a culture problem, and it runs deep.

I am hopeful, as I prepare for the last run of Beyond Sex Ed tonight, that this is a problem that we are remedying. Beyond Sex Ed is powerful not just because of the student narratives embedded within it but because of the comprehensive, eye-opening and growth-oriented approach it adopts. Never before have I seen a sex ed or consent program at Stanford so steadfast in its belief in student growth and exploration, so optimistic and even enamored in the idea of a consent culture and health sexuality at Stanford, so passionate about the potential of an incoming class to shape this campus. I find myself both proud to be a part of this program and yet jealous that I could not have experienced it myself as a frosh.

Cultural change is in some way inevitable with enough tinkering and enough time; eventually enough incoming classes will have experienced Beyond Sex Ed that no more students on this campus will remember having seen anything else. But I’m not patient enough to wait three years for today’s frosh to become seniors — isn’t it sad, too, to think of the sophomores, juniors and seniors today as remnants of an older culture characterized by non-consent, unhealthy intimate practices and poor communication that time will eventually remove from campus? We can do better than that.

To all those upperclassmen and grads on this campus: The responsibility falls on us now to play catch-up. We cannot fail frosh and transfers as mentors by pressuring them to drink when they do not want to or by remaining silent about our own wants and needs as romantic and intimate partners. We cannot fail them by turning a blind eye to racism and transmisogyny, or by shaming each other about our bodies, desires or intimate lives. It’s on us to teach ourselves what Beyond Sex Ed is teaching them, to start among ourselves those same critical conversations about intimacy, communication, boundaries and exploration.

This takes humility; it is hard for even the best of us to admit that our beliefs and practices around sexuality and intimacy might be unhealthy. By now, many of us have acclimated to the Stanford we learned to navigate when we were frosh or new transfer students. It is our responsibility, however, not to grow complacent with simply replicating this culture as upperclassmen. We must examine and redesign the organizations we lead, the sections we teach and the residences we live in with cultural change in mind, so that we can work with frosh- not impede them — as we create a better Stanford.

To all those frosh and transfers still feeling out this campus and all its complexities: Thank you for being here and having these crucial conversations. It is my hope that those here who have not had a chance to go beyond sex ed can follow your lead in creating a better campus culture for all of us.


Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' stanford.edu – she loves messages!

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