‘Review’ Applauds SIC’s Adherence to Core Values

Part of Oberlin’s appeal is its salacious, open-minded, body- and sex-positive outlook on sexual expression. Throughout its history this college has proven to be at the forefront of issues related to gender and sexuality, such as its (well-timed) 1969 decision to adopt co-ed dorms. The Sexual Information Center — the mas- terminds behind the longstanding Safer Sex Dance — itself arose out of a desire to combat stigma surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late ’70s. But the event that prompted many of us to reconfigure our Facebook privacy settings to prevent family members from seeing tagged photos will no longer serve as a rite of passage for lustful first-years finally free of parental control. Delightfully famous for its encouragement of sweaty, naked bodies of all different shapes and sizes rubbing up against one another, the event is also plagued with the more no- torious aspects of its reputation, namely its unintentional convergence of alcohol and partying, which often results in the very thing the SIC hopes to combat every year: non-consensual sex and an unsafe, non-inclusive space for many students.

As we noted in our editorial, “Obies Shouldn’t be Fairweather Fans of Sex and Body Positivity” (Nov. 1, 2013), the SIC’s yearly night of sweaty, glittery, sexy debauchery has taken various forms since its inaugural outing roughly three de- cades ago. Since then, there have been many amendments designed to limit the hypocritical nature of the event. In 2001, alcohol sales at the actual event were prohibited, and just four years later, the College banned the once-infamous “Tent of Consent,” a converted space in DeCafé encouraging agreed-upon friskiness. The educational component of Safer Sex Week has been emphasized to various degrees by the event organizers, though in recent years, educational program- ming has been excluded from the Safer Sex Dance entirely. Instead, the SIC insti- tuted Safer Sex Week in 2009, featuring workshops and information sessions at which tickets to the main event were exclusively distributed.

In theory, Safer Sex Week should have been a clear-cut example of consent and safe sex practices. But, as the SIC recognizes, best practices about sexual consent do not always translate effectively in real-life interactions. Learning to bridge this gap was ostensibly the thinking behind the dance. In reality, however, the week ultimately culminated in a highly ironic and disappointing shrugging off of the lessons which preceded it.

Safer Sex Night has historically been a night when safe sex is compromised and sex positivity is absent, and, despite its clearly benevolent and well-informed intentions, the SIC was never able to change that sad reality. Unfortunately, it is true of Oberlin — and probably of most college campuses — that any large party is going to involve the consumption of alcohol as a social lubricant, especially when people are trying to convince themselves that they are more OK revealing their mostly naked bodies than they actually are. But the consumption of alcohol impairs a student’s ability to give consent, as the SIC has acknowledged through- out the event’s existence.

To truly deal with issues of consent at Oberlin, the SIC must continue to em- phasize one of the key issues at hand: liquid courage as social lubricant. Address- ing the link between alcohol and consent (or a lack thereof) is imperative. While it doesn’t extend to all instances of non-consensual sexual activity, it certainly focuses on a major culprit in many of them. The SIC could expand its existing programming that’s specifically designed to engage with the realities of alcohol and sex in an undergraduate environment. Though no one expects the SIC to overturn college party culture in one fell swoop, addressing the often problematic relationship between alcohol and sex on this campus — an issue explicitly dem- onstrated during Safer Sex Night — is key.

The SIC’s decision to cancel the event outright, rather than turning a blind eye to the problematic aspects of the dance for the sake of upholding tradition, is highly commendable. It seems clear that despite the organization’s repeated efforts to emphasize educational aspects of the week, there was no way to ensure that the night facilitated safe sexual practices for all attendees. Recognizing that the environment was unsafe and reaffirming their organization’s commitment is the first strong step in creating a campus in which safer, consensual sex is a year- round occurrence.