Yes Means Yes: A Colgate Initiative

Let’s talk about sex. Specifically, let’s talk about positive sexuality. Let’s talk about feminism, femininity, masculinity, sexual assault, relationships, hookups, and everything in between. Let’s talk about it all; let’s talk about “Yes Means Yes”, which is a five-week interdisciplinary positive sexuality seminar aiming to improve students’ relationship skills and behaviors. It offers the students of Colgate a place to have real and rewarding conversations with not only their friends, but many members of the community. It is a forum which allows those involved to relax and get comfortable with themselves and others by unraveling the integral part of each of us that is sexuality and identity.

Yes Means Yes is designed to discuss the idea of positive sexuality and to unpack the taboo nature of discussing relationships (sexual and non sexual) on this campus and beyond. Each of the students involved that were interviewed had insightful and positive things to say about their experiences with the program so far. Eli Brick, one of the ten Yes Means Yes student facilitators at Colgate, describes part of his role as, “thinking about ways of prompting people to step outside their comfort zone and really think about what they want from any given relationship, how to ask for what they want, and why it is often so difficult to do that.”

As Eli stated, it is difficult, but is made ever easier each session as Yes Means Yes creates an environment where students are able to speak freely about a variety of issues, from sexual identity and rape to sex education and consent. However, this is not a forum that’s only beneficial for women. As noted by Eli and other involved members, a common misconception about the program is that it generally facilitates towards women; however, this course can be empowering for any individual regardless of gender or sexual orientation. When asked his opinion of this, Eli Brick says, “Part of being able to have these conversations as a man is being cognizant of the role that masculinity plays in relationships; that can be really complicated.  I try to be mindful of the fact that a lot of my personal opinions and experiences are closely related to my gender and the way that men are typically socialized to think about relationships. Sometimes that means limiting my voice and allowing myself to listen.”

Another program leader, Leah Robinson, agrees with Brick’s point, and says, “It lets everybody understand what their identity is and how their positionality impacts those around them.” It is important to disregard presumptions about sexuality in order to allow oneself to think about it in a new way.  She continues saying, “Yes Means Yes is empowering for women, men, and those who don’t conform to a specific gender identity. There is another common misconception that only women should be feminist; that is farthest from the truth. Everyone should recognize and care about gender equality.” She goes onto state how important equality is to gender nonconforming people as well and emphasizes what Yes Means Yes is really about: being kind and caring towards others and being able to know what we want and more importantly, be able to articulate those desires.

When asked if the program is successful in getting these messages across, one participant, Ali Friedlander, unquestionably agreed.  She says, “The discussions and readings we have really make you think about things that you may not have previously, and I think that’s the point of the program, to open up people’s minds to new things.” It seems to be a unified response that Yes Means Yes is extremely successful in not only teaching about positive sexuality, but also in showing students that it is okay to feel uncomfortable at times.

Overall, everybody involved in the program highly suggests people to participate in Yes Means Yes. Their positive experiences have really impacted their lives and especially the way they approach the topic of sexuality. Throughout the course, people learn so much about themselves and others; they are also challenged to think about topics in a very different way. It is encouraged that people enroll in Yes Means Yes because, as Leah Robinson says,  “If people begin talking about issues in a small intimate group makes it easier to find commonalities and feel less alone; that is the community we are trying to create here.” When asked if there was anything else the students should know about Yes Means Yes, Leah only had one last piece of insight: “TAKE IT!”