Viewpoint: A class in relationship safety

BY KATHARINE ZUREK

Published November 9, 2011

In her viewpoint (Workshop in need of a remix, 11/8/11) Jesse Klein asserts that the concepts presented in the Relationship Remix Workshop are, to incoming freshmen, “obvious and basic about relationships — things that anyone smart enough to get into the University would already know.” As a facilitator of these workshops I can understand where Klein is coming from. Sure, it may seem obvious that trust, communication and consent are all components of healthy relationships.

Those of us who work in the field of sexualized violence prevention, however, are aware of the theory-to-practice disconnect present in discourse on healthy relationships. While many incoming freshmen — and much of the general population — are able to assert the obvious components of healthy relationships, when 20 to 25 percent of women in college have experienced a completed or attempted sexual assault, the disconnect between what people say they know and how they behave is obvious.

In order to bridge the theory-to-practice gap in consent and healthy relationships on campus, the Relationship Remix Workshop asks participants to pair up and practice having conversations in which giving and receiving consent is necessary. Klein thought this experience was “uncomfortable, unrealistic and purposeless.” I completely affirm Klein’s experience of discomfort. However, I believe the general discomfort in these activities arises from the fact that we are not taught to have conversations about sex. In movies, sex just happens; music plays and things happen smoothly — there is never a realistic conversation about the expectations of, or feelings about, the activity.

As facilitators of Relationship Remix, we expect these conversations to be a bit awkward because we have all been socialized to remain silent about sex. In response to these practice conversations being “unrealistic,” I again affirm Klein’s feelings — these conversations aren’t happening at the frequency we would like to see. But there lies the point of the workshop: for people to integrate conversations about consent and healthy relationships into their lives.

It is unfortunate that Klein feels the University is treating all incoming freshmen like naive children because that is far from what they are doing. Rather, the University is taking into account the diverse experiences of all incoming freshmen. While some people have learned about consent and sexualized violence in high school health classes, and some have been in situations in which they’ve been able to give, decline to give, receive or accept the rejection of consent, these are not the experiences of all freshmen. There are many communities that do not approve of dating, partying or drinking alcohol. There are some students who have come from families and high schools in which interactions with potential dating partners were limited. Starting with the basics of healthy relationships, consent and coercion and actually skill-building around these issues are ways to educate in a way that is inclusive of all previous experiences, knowledge levels and choices of dating partners.

As a final note, I sincerely do not doubt the maturity level and lack of naiveté of Klein and appreciate very much the attempt to answer the questions of facilitators during the workshop. However, in my experience, some audience members are unable to listen respectfully when a Relationship Remix facilitator is speaking, some make offensive and homophobic remarks and, in Klein’s own words, treat the experience “as a joke or (do) not do the activit(ies) at all.” It is my sincere hope that freshmen (and all students) recognize the need to practice healthy behaviors rather than just hear about them and that this recognition will result in attentive, mature audiences for all future Relationship Remix Workshops.

Katharine Zurek is an LSA senior.