Building sex education at Stanford

Oct. 11, 2016, 12:49 a.m.

In the wake of the regrettable legal battle involving former student Brock Turner, people from around the globe responded with anger, sadness, and confusion about sexual assault on college campuses and the respective legal and university responses.

Stanford has always been respected and celebrated for being at the forefront of research and education, yet before this year, the student experience of sex education seems to have fallen short. Yes, there is an eye-opening, optional class that Vaden and the SHPRC offer, but if you, like most people in the world, grew up without a background of sexual health education, it may feel awkward, shameful or unimportant to seek out this class. How can we expect our students to know how to navigate relationships, dating and college life without any place to learn and process these critical issues?

As a proud Stanford grad, it pains me to see our fine university in this negative light because of situations that could perhaps be prevented with appropriate additional student training. Could we do better as an institution?

Thankfully, things have started to change this fall, as the University has heard and responded to the urgent calls to action.  The ASSU and SARA Office have worked hard to initiate some amazing new programs to combat a culture of silence. Before NSO, college freshmen were required to take an online course about sexual and relationship violence prevention. In addition, after NSO, every college freshman is required to attend the 90-minute program Beyond Sex Ed: Consent & Sexuality at Stanford, featuring a variety of student stories that reflect their lived experiences, as well as the surrounding systems of culture that influence those experiences. Finally, there will be required peer-led workshops in all frosh dorms known as SAVE, Stanford Anti-Violence Educators. Evolving from last year, when students were protesting on campus that “Rape Happens Here,” it seems that the university has definitively acknowledged the need to better address sexual well being on campus.

This is a solid start, but will a few one-time classes and seminars be enough to alter longstanding core beliefs and behaviors? Clearly, the conversation about sex on campus is starting, but should the conversation stop after the first quarter? Yes, these innovations are definitely exciting and long overdue, but if we are talking in terms of valid and reliable methods, we know that behavior and mindset modification takes more than a few one-time talks. How is it that an entire quarter can be allocated to an intro-seminar on “Animal Behavior: Sex, Death and Sometimes Food,” but not comprehensive student sex education? Why not create a quarter-long class, complete with ongoing smaller process groups to discuss more than consent? What about holistic sexual health, which includes topics such as pleasure, sexual orientation, birth control options, navigating religion or faith and sexuality? Perhaps we could bring in some of the leading sex educators and researchers in the world. We need more time than a 90-minute session to cover comprehensive sex education.

Not only will this vital education be immeasurably important for Stanford students, it will also put Stanford at the forefront of an international sexual health movement. Further, the potential outcome and effects of such a groundbreaking tactic could be researched and measured for a global college sex education program, positioning Stanford as the founder of the healthiest mental and physical sexual well-being approach available today. Stanford, in so many ways, offers the highest standard of education in the world, so we should make every effort to ensure that our university also offers the same high standard in the well-being of our community and students. If we cannot continue and maintain this discussion for our students, how can we expect them to flourish in other aspects of their lives at Stanford and beyond?

My time at Stanford will always be some of best years of my life. I loved representing our university as mascot and now I am a proud alumni. In being a student and working at the Bridge and the SHPRC, I know that the dark truth is that even among all the amazing things Stanford has to offer, there are still issues of sexual assault and mental health struggles on campus — many more than the cases that actually draw media attention. Addressing these things does not take away from our reputation. I feel that it makes us look stronger; there is nothing wrong with admitting imperfections. I know things have changed and continue to improve every year, but it would be remiss of me if I did not bring my current knowledge and passion back to Stanford to repay the university for all it has taught and continues to inspire within me.   

In keeping with Stanford’s storied reputation and legacy, we must continue to take action from within to assure every student the best college experience that is possible to provide, especially with all the protections, benefits and assets at our disposal. I know we have the brainpower and the resources; SARA, along with their new Director of Positive Sexuality, Design & Development, Brianna Booth, have spearheaded a critical conversation. Let’s applaud and support the current measures, and yet, let’s also keep talking as we search together to find ways to keep our university as‎ proactive as possible in equipping our students with the highest standard of sex education.

— Nicoletta Heidegger ’13
Former Stanford Tree and Daily columnist

Contact Nicoletta Heidegger at nicolettaheidegger ‘at’

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