In the second year of the Sexual Respect Initiative, Columbia has offered more workshops and more sessions of each option. It has also hidden the availability of the Arts Option inside of the “Create Your Own Project” category and supposedly responded to the feedback of students and faculty. What does all of this change mean for us as individual students going to these workshops, and as a community addressing the question of Sexual Respect?
Yesterday, I went to an event called “Sex in the Digital Age.” The workshop, run by Francisco Ramirez, a Mailman School of Public Health graduate who works with MTV and the United Nations, centered around 9 “pro-tips” for navigating the intersection of sex and technology. The gif-laden presentation talked about respecting privacy, understanding one’s own boundaries, and reading ambiguous texts. Of the 25 students in the room, I can’t speak certainly on our class composition, but judging on apparent age and comfort talking about sex, I was not the only non-freshman in the room.
The workshop was informative, and left me feeling better about my capacity to use Tinder and navigate technology in a relationship. But was this, a seminar on flirting, mixed signals, and whether or not a camel emoji is a proposition of sex, what student activists envisioned for the Sexual Respect Initiative?
Sexual respect, according to Columbia, “is the commitment to communicating and acting in interpersonal relationships with integrity and respect for others. It is also about each University community member’s role in creating an environment where sexual and gender-based misconduct is not tolerated.” These two noble goals are clumped together into one definition. Healthier interpersonal relationships should lead to an environment with less gender-based misconduct, but “Sex in the Digital Age” doesn’t seem to fulfill that second goal as well as workshops on how to help survivors or on bystander prevention.
If Columbia has a duty to ensure that its students are educated on sexual respect, it is not for the purpose of making sure students can safely use Snapchat to send nude photos. This workshop, and others like “The Art and Science of Flirting” and “Status Updates, Snapchats & Text Wars,” make for fun and informative lectures that can benefit the sexual and technological lives of students. And they do adhere to the first part of sexual respect’s definition by clarifying communication and encouraging respect for others. But did Zoe Ridolfi-Starr and Sejal Singh organize No Red Tape and the Coalition Against Sexual Violence so that I could take a seminar telling me how to deal with my date not responding to my text messages? Columbia, by continuing this line of workshops, could increase the health of sex and relationships for its students. But Columbia, by letting students defer workshops on consent and survivors in favor of lighter, less scary seminars, is demeaning sexual respect.
Untitled by Anonymous via the Arts Option website