From Theory to Praxis: High School Outreach Program

Since I have not taken a gender and sexuality studies class before this semester, most of the concepts we discussed in class and from the readings were very new to me. This class has truly allowed me to broaden my horizons of how I view the world and society. Before this semester, I was only aware of gender and sexuality as binaries, but I now see how society has constructed them to be viewed this way. As we began discussing new topics in depth, I started to think about my education regarding gender and sexuality, or lack thereof, prior to this class. In middle school, I had the standard health and sex education classes, but we mostly touched on only the biological aspects of each rather than the emotional and psychological aspects. In high school, we did not have any type of sex education; in fact, it seemed forbidden to discuss any topics regarding gender and sexuality. However, this class has allowed me to understand how important and crucial it is to have open dialogue about these topics in everyday life. Therefore, for my theory to praxis final project I set out to open this dialogue in high schools in the Charlotte area.

As a member of Rape Awareness Committee, I volunteered to be in charge of our High School Outreach Program. In the beginning, I did it purely because I was from the Charlotte area so I had contacts at many local high schools, but as the semester went on, I realized how much of an impact we could truly make with this program due to the lack of health and sex education in the local high schools. Therefore, I began researching other sex education programs, narrowing down what exactly I wanted to focus on, and how we wanted to convey our message. After meeting with Georgia Ringle and Ashley Fry, I decided to focus on consent and positive and healthy relationships as these topics are pertinent and rarely discussed in schools. We found that most schools’ sex education programs are very abstinence-based so many students have never discussed these topics and a strong stigma surrounds conversation of these topics.

In working with the rest of my committee, we put together a presentation that focused on opening a discussion with students based on the norm of reciprocity: the more open and honest we are with them, the more open they will hopefully be with us. We begin our presentation by showing a video of Davidson students discussing key aspects of positive and healthy relationships and giving examples of personal sexual experiences where their knowledge of consent and choice was important. Following this video, we share why we personally are each here giving this presentation and a little bit about our own sexual identity and experiences. We hope that our willingness to share our beliefs and experiences will open a line of communication for the students to discuss their personal experiences and ask questions. In order to further engage the students and for us to frame the conversation towards the audience, we then have them fill out a series of anonymous questions regarding gender and sexual identity as well as personal experiences. This then leads us into our presentation about consent and healthy relationships. In addition to sharing definitions and characteristics of each, we ask students to share their beliefs and knowledge about each topic. We then give the students hypothetical situations and ask them what they would do in each case. One thing we want to emphasize is that there is more than one right way to handle any of these situations; each person will probably handle them a little bit differently. After hearing the students share their opinions on each situation, we each give our own answer and explanation for how we would potentially handle it.  We conclude our presentation by allowing everyone to write down questions anonymously on note cards, which we then read aloud and answer to the best of our ability for the group.

Overall, we have given two presentations so far and have multiple scheduled for the spring. Just from the two presentations we have given, I have been able to see how much of an impact we can have. In one of our presentations to seventh and eighth grade girls at Circle de Luz, several of the girls were already sexually active, but were unaware of the meaning of the words consent and contraception. Though this was highly concerning in the moment, by the end of the presentation, they were all confident in their own ability to ask for and give consent, aware of their choice, and knew to always use protection. Personally, the impact we were able to make from this one presentation was worth all the time and effort I put into creating this program. However, I am looking forward to our presentations in the spring and to seeing the further impact we can make the community.