First-Year Seminar Releases Sex and Education Handbook
Issue   |   Wed, 12/07/2016 - 00:16

Visiting Artist-in-Residence Wendy Ewald hosted a panel titled “A Sex and Education Handbook,” to unveil a project created by students in the first-year seminar “Representing Equality” which Ewald co-teaches with black studies and English Professor Rhonda Cobham-Sander. The event took place on Dec. 1 in Frost Library.

The panel discussed the recent publication of “A Sex and Education Handbook,” which includes student essays and photography, as well as student-created sex contracts and a list of resources for students who have been sexually assaulted.

The panel was made up of three former seminar students — Will Cohen ’19, Gabrielle Francois ’19 and Pablo Saunders-Shultz ’19 — current seminar student Claire Cho ’20, Cobham-Sander, former Representing Equality professor Martha Saxton and Title IX coordinator Laurie Frankl.

Ewald said she tried to incorporate as many people who were involved with the class as possible. “This [book] represents three years of students’ work in Representing Equality,” she said. “There were so many things to say that it was difficult to get everything in there that we wanted to. We had our class this year read the handbook and then we had a class with Gabrielle, Pablo and Laurie Frankl and that conversation was really good. There were tons of questions.”

Francois spoke about her experience as an international student at Amherst and how both the class and the process of creating the handbook helped her settle in. “The class fit in very well with my experience as an international student coming here and not really knowing much about Amherst College or American universities in general,” Francois said. “It was a really good space to research and learn things and kind of understand [them] in a way that you don’t learn when you’re navigating campus life on your own ... You see a lot of personality brought into the book’s character.”

Emily Hirtle ’20, who attended the panel, sees the handbook as a way to take a serious subject and make it more approachable for students. “I like how they took the complicated legal language of the Title IX policies and made it more understandable and clear to people,” Hirtle said. “There’s a nice mix of serious stuff and art and funny things in the handbook. It’s definitely a good book to flip through and that takes something that could be really scary and complicated and makes it understandable.”

The idea for the class and the handbook first emerged several years ago with the goal of promoting student discussion and engagement with topics such as sexual assault on campus.

“Originally Martha Saxton and I made a proposal to the administration, to work with four first-year seminars over four years with the idea that over [time] ... you can work to change the discussions and open up dialogues in informed ways,” Ewald said. “We had done projects in the previous two years and had made newspapers which we distributed in everyone’s mailbox, which included many of the same things as the handbook, but were not nearly as in depth as the book.”

Through the book, Ewald hopes conversations about sex and sexual assault can become more open across the campus. “We want people to take a stack of books with them and distribute them to whoever is in their dorm, whoever is on their team,” Ewald said. “We want to get this book out to as many students as possible.”

Honest conversations about sexual assault and sex education are important most especially for prevention, Ewald said. “I really hope that people start talking more openly about the subjects in there,” Ewald said. “But also so that the conversations are less prescriptive or less about what do we do in these situations. Of course that’s all very necessary, but [so is] what happens before you even get to that part. I think also the idea of using art as an intervention, as a way to be able to communicate in a more expansive way and link it to certain subjects that need that broadness and openness to move to another place rather than hiding.”