October 10, 2013
Through its new discussion group, Yes Means Yes, Hamilton College extends the conversation of sexual education beyond negative cultural and societal milieu towards encouraging healthy physical and emotional relationships.
Senior Associate Dean of Students for Strategic Initiatives/Title IX Coordinator Meredith Harper Bonham first learned of the unique initiative at a New England Deans conference last March. Upon hearing of nearby Colgate’s success with this program, Bonham turned to other Hamilton co-workers, including Director of Residential Life Travis Hill, Director of the Days-Massolo Center Amit Taneja and the Counseling Center’s David Walden in order to create recreate a similar group at Hamilton.
“[Yes Means Yes is] very much a community effort,” Bonham said. In fact, the group includes not just students and these founding Hamilton officials but also student leaders Joshua Bridge ’14 and Michelle Shafer ’14 and staff members from a wide range of offices and departments at the College.
Yes Means Yes, aptly named after the initiative’s inspirational book by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, is a direct reference to a typical mode of sexual education known as the “No Means No” campaign. According to campus-wide emails and posters, the program “[explores] healthy relationships through positive sexuality, assertive communication and better understanding ourselves.” Every Monday from 6 to 8 p.m. for six weeks, beginning this week, over a dozen students who have registered and committed to the private group will participate in an open, unfiltered conversation facilitated by a Hamilton staff member or student advisor. These dialogues initially focus on the day’s reading from Yes Means Yes but ultimately can transition into discussions about various issues pertaining to sexuality.
“I end up dealing with a lot of the ‘No Means No’ variety of sexual assault prevention. I thought the idea of having a program focusing on the more positive parts of sexual education would be a nice counterpart,” said Bonham when asked why she felt Hamilton could benefit from Yes Means YEs.
Though lead by the College’s administration, Yes Means Yes has “nothing at all to do with” policies and procedures relating to sexual assault at the College. Instead, it is merely intended to be a safe, judgment-free platform for students to express their thoughts and concerns about sexuality and relationships.
“[The phrase] Yes Means Yes means…emphasizing the importance of communicating…and that can only lead to better things,” explained Bonham. Walden also sees the group as a caring space to create a “healthier and more fulfilling campus community.” He said, “I think this program is a great opportunity for students to talk openly about the rewards and challenges of their experiences at Hamilton and to embrace a way of being sexual that emphasizes pleasure, connection and communication rather than discomfort, detachment and confusion.”
The success of this Monday’s discussion has shown the program’s leaders that the initiative can truly benefit the College’s community as a whole. Though Bonham was initially hesitant about the outcome of the initial gathering, the overwhelming number of RSVPs she received as well as the enthusiasm generated by the evening’s discussion truly defied expectations. This response, in conjunciton with the passionate support across campus for positive sex education programs like “I Heart Female Orgasm” and the upcoming lecture by Donna Freitas sponsored by DMC, has demonstrated to Bonham and members of the discussion team that the community welcomes the opportunity to further openly explore topics previously considered taboo.
“I don’t think we can do enough…college students are really eager to talk about [these issues,” Bonham said. “[That] students are willing to open up and discuss matters with people [who are] more of their parents generation is really a great thing.”
Bonham has no doubt that Yes Means Yes will encourage healthy relationships and an overall positive environment for sexuality on campus.