Op-Ed: The Truth About Remix

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 6:45pm

*This piece was written by a group of Relationship Remix facilitators from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and Sexperteam. The opinions voiced do not necessarily represent those of the Relationship Remix professional staff, lead team or other facilitators.

The Michigan Daily recently published an article from a former Relationship Remix facilitator that criticized the Remix program for its minimal discussion of sex and framework that individualizes and de-politicizes sex. While we understand that these criticisms may stem from the author’s personal experiences, we, as current facilitators, would like to offer another perspective.

First, we would like to address the author’s claim that, “(Remix) is literally here so we can talk about sex.” On the contrary, Relationship Remix is, at its core, a practice of public health — it aims to create a safe and healthy University of Michigan environment through promoting knowledge and skills for navigating communication, healthy relationships, consent, sexual health and sexual violence.

We completely agree that the state of sex education within the United States is severely lacking, and that comprehensive sex-positive education is essential to fostering positive and healthy behaviors. To this end, Remix does address topics relating specifically to sexual health, and while the condom demonstration and its “879 steps” may seem rudimentary and “disappointing” to those who have had the privilege of already receiving extensive sexual health education prior to attending the University, many incoming students have not been exposed to this information, let alone had it framed in a sex-positive manner.

How we talk about sexual health in Remix and how much time we allot to explicit discussions of sex is heavily influenced by the fact that many students aren't having sex now, and some aren't interested in having sex ever. A student’s decision to not have sex can arise from a variety of personal or societal factors; we also acknowledge that a lack of interest in sex is not equivalent to a lack of interest in relationships. As a mandatory workshop that aims to be as inclusive as possible, Remix serves as a broad introduction to a wide range of topics — including but not limited to sex and sexual health — that are relevant and useful to students with various identities, interests and experiences. For students who would like more in-depth sex-ed, many resources on campus serve this purpose, including Sexperteam, which provides workshops and hosts Sexpertise, an annual conference on sex, sexuality and pleasure. Furthermore, while sex education in secondary schools is subpar, programs on values, communication, consent and healthy relationships are virtually non-existent. As a result, we believe these conversations are just as, if not more, important than conversations about sex.

Contrary to the author’s beliefs, Remix does not frame consent as “simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ” Rather, the workshop explicitly conveys the complexity of consent and coercion and emphasizes the importance of asking what our partner(s) want and like during sex in order to make it a pleasurable — and equitable — experience. These points set the standards high for what does count as consent, and thereby, for what positive consensual sex looks like. Moreover, the author states that conversations in Remix about values, choices and consent are de-politicized and individualized. However, within Remix, these conversations are often open-ended discussions guided by contributions from participants. As socialization and cultural norms inevitably seep into the conversations, it is the role of the facilitators to address issues of identity, gender norms and social dynamics that affect values, decision-making, relationships, consent and violence. We agree that more explicit mention of this framework in the script itself would be beneficial; this is feedback that we will bring to Remix professional staff and lead team to incorporate in future years.

That being said, we do not see the conversations about values and choices as dispensable; they are essential groundwork for the rest of the workshop. Relationships, sex and sexual violence are multi-layered: The factors that influence these experiences range from individual and interpersonal to societal. Thus, addressing values, communication and decision-making within relationships is just as important as the structural dynamics involved in consent, coercion and sexual violence. The discussion of values and decision-making within relationships is especially important when we later talk about intimate partner violence, which includes emotional or economic abuse. While the author claims that we are “de-sexualizing our sex-ed,” we believe it would be careless, perhaps even dangerous, to teach about sexual violence within a framework of sex. Sexual violence is about power and control — not sex.

Finally, people get out of Remix what they put into it. This applies for both the facilitators and the participants. Our goal as facilitators is not to lecture for two hours — it’s to meet people where they are, engage in a meaningful discussion and learn from one another.

We recognize that Remix is not perfect by any means. As facilitators, we walk out of some sessions beaming and energized, and other sessions drained and frustrated. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of Remix is undeniable — pre and post-survey data show that "students significantly (p<0.001) improve in their ability to make decisions based on their values, define a healthy relationship and sexual assault, express their own and listen to their partners’ needs and desires, ask for consent, and know about campus resources." These results span across many different identities, including race, gender and sexual orientation.

As facilitators, we do what we do because we believe in the mission and impact of Relationship Remix. We go through countless hours of training and facilitation because we see and feel the positive influence it makes. It is a work in progress, constantly undergoing refinement and improvement, but we are extremely fortunate to have this program available, as well as a community of dedicated, hard-working students and staff who are committed to its success. Relationship Remix is the paradigm shift to a healthier, supportive, more respectful culture and we’re proud to be a part of it.

The Relationship Remix team is very welcoming of feedback. Every year, the script is updated to incorporate thoughts, suggestions and concerns from participants and facilitators alike. We invite you to submit your feedback by emailing Relationships@umich.edu or by completing the six- and 12-month follow-up surveys.

Several Relationship Remix facilitators contributed to this piece, including LSA/RC senior Jasmine Rubio, LSA junior Becca Avella, LSA junior Julia Snider, LSA sophomore Sam Kennedy, LSA senior Elizabeth Nesbitt, LSA senior Kiera Krashesky, LSA junior Carolyn Pavlovic and LSA senior Emily Liu.