Campus News

Students Get Real About Sex With 'Speak About It'

Story posted October 21, 2011

What began in 2009 as a student-fueled orientation session at Bowdoin about dating culture and sexual assault on campuses has now developed into a performance program that is touring many colleges around the East coast.

Speak About It includes a changing cast of five to eight actors who perform a variety of skits and monologues dealing with sexual consent, assault and misconduct, and bystander intervention.

speak about it cast
Cast memebers Dave Surkin, Shana Natelson '10, Mat Robedee, Nick Smith '09, Laura Armstrong '12 and Emma Verrill '10 perform Speak About It at Haverford College.

"After researching the programs available on sexual assault awareness and prevention, we felt like we wanted to create something that really spoke to the issues on today's college campuses," says one of the program's originators, Meadow Davis, Bowdoin associate director of student affairs. "We wanted students to really understand what consent is."

The script of Speak About It is intensely personal. It includes real stories from students from a range of gender and sexual orientations.

The first script was developed when the performers put out a call for confidential, personal submissions from among the Bowdoin student body. Since then, it has shifted as new actors and material are added. At each performance site, the actors include specific cultural and college references to give the show resonance at that campus.

The core message of the program and the script remains unchanged, however: No matter your age, gender, or lifestyle choice, yes means yes and no means no.

Many of the monologues are poignant, even wrenching - tales of empty hookups, or stalwart virginity in the face of peer pressure. The discovery of sexual orientation. A boyfriend's anguish upon learning about his girlfriend's experience of sexual assault.

There are stories of pride, as the students describe their maturing attitudes about theirs and others' sexual choices.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about consent," says the show's producer, Shana Natelson '10.

"This is a show that speaks to everyone," says Shana Natelson '10, the program's producer. "It doesn't matter if you've had sex or haven't, if you're a survivor of sexual assault or know someone who is, we hope everyone can take away something personal.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about consent, especially when they involve alcohol, so we clarify it," continues Natelson. "We think of assent as an affirmation, not as an absence of 'no.' That seems to be resonant with people, giving them permission to say yes and the courage to say no."

In often humorous skits of daily campus life, the performers act out a range of strategies students can employ to evaluate their own readiness for sexual engagement and to convey those to a partner.

Some of the actors are current Bowdoin students, who squeeze performances in between classes or semesters. They are sometimes joined by theater professionals or student actors from other colleges.

A fall 2011 tour brought Speak About It to the campuses of Colby, Bates and Bowdoin Colleges, to Haverford College, the University of Southern Maine, Williams College and Utica College.

The show will be a central event at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault Campus Conference at UMO on Oct. 27, 2011, which includes public and private educators and sexual assault agencies from across the state.

"This is a very difficult subject for a lot of people," Natelson says. "Sexual assault is very personal. We've been approached by a number of parents and student survivors who come and thank us for having a conversation and educating students. We hope that we can help survivors in their healing and help prevent sexual assault from happening on campuses."

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