Talking about sexual issues may not be easy.
But for nearly 25 years frank discussions about abuse, violence and destructive behavior — and preventing these — has been part of the conversation at the University of West Georgia.
The Responsible Sexuality Committee, which brings a production of “The Vagina Monologues” back to campus in February, was a trailblazer among Georgia higher education institutions when it formed in mid -1986.
Back then counselors at the Student Development Center, Ann Phillips, Sylvia Shortt and Angela Horrison, noticed that many students were struggling with sexual abuse issues.
They wanted to do something to help the students, prevent further abuse and educate them about destructive behavior. The conversation started and the committee took off.
From the start, it had administrative support from Dr. Bruce Lyon, who was vice president and dean of student services, said Shortt, who was the assistant director of student development.
“The programs we bring to campus really do educate the students,” said Shortt, who is now the associate director of international services and programs.
A key goal of the committee was to give students a chance to get “straight answers to their questions in a non-judgmental climate,” said retired psychology professor Anne Richards.
The forums, first dubbed “Sex in the '80s” and now called “Let’s Talk About Sex,” bring emergency room doctors, gynecologists, psychologists and other health professionals to answer students’ questions. The Carroll Rape Crisis Center and AID Atlanta have also participated in the panels.
With attendance always in the hundreds, the annual forum outgrew its initial meeting space at Kathy Cashen Recital Hall and now meets in the Campus Center Ballroom.
“I like to think we are making a difference,” Richards said.
Still, the questions from year to year are often the same, perhaps because students reach college without ever receiving good sexual education in high school, Richards said.
“People are still putting themselves at risk, still getting in situations where GHB gets in their drinks, still in situations where sex is painful – emotionally or physically,” Richards said.
Each year the Responsible Sexuality Committee selects a theme for its programs. This year it is “Own Your Sexuality,” said co-chair Gary Schmidt.
Other up-coming programs include: a student-run theater production based on the “Own Your Sexuality” theme in March; and the Clothesline Project, which brings attention to violence against women, in August.
The committee’s mission remains the same, Schmidt said, “to promote responsible behavior, inform students, to inform the whole campus community about safe and responsible behavior.”
In recent years LGBT issues have been part of the committee’s programs. The “Safe Zone” program, a workshop for gay, bisexual and straight students, started about seven years ago.
It was important to bring the LGBT community into the fold.
“There are always going to be people in the community who are afraid to be out,” Schmidt said. But members of the LBGT community should know they can “live openly and do so safely on campus.”
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