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My Friday PSA

A few years ago, someone (probably Angela Voos) suggested that if I was really concerned about issues relating to student alcohol use and to sexual assault on campus, I should speak openly about these issues to students. It’s different hearing these things from a faculty member than it is from peers or from student affairs staff, or so I’ve been told.

I will say that my personality is such that it was not comfortable to talk about such things in front of students. However, as I got used to giving my Friday PSAs, as I’ve come to call them, it’s become easier.

I don’t know how much difference these announcements make. I expect that some students make fun of me for doing them. But if they make a difference for even one student, I think it’s worth my time and my class time.

Each PSA is somewhat different. None are as long as this essay, which brings together many of the different threads from the many things I say.

It’s Friday. You’ve been working hard all week. I hope that you will take advantage of some much needed relaxation this weekend. There are many things you can do. You can dance. You can go to concerts. You can play games. You can get some extra sleep. You can have long arguments about philosophical principles. (Hey, I went to the UofC, where they say fun goes to die. Those people just don’t understand that it’s incredibly fun to debate issues until 2 a.m. in the library.) Some of you will choose to ingest substances or to share close company with others. And I want to talk to you about those last two issues.

I care a lot about you. (Earlier in the semester, I tend to say Past history suggests that I will come to care a lot about you. That’s true. I find that Grinnell students are awesome people, and by a few weeks in to the semester, I care a lot about many, and often all, students in my class.) And so I don’t want to see you hurt. Unfortunately, too many bad things happen on campus, particularly over the weekends. I think we need to talk about them.

I strongly recommend that, as you start your evening, you consider in advance what you will be comfortable doing and what is right for you. It’s much easier to make such decisions early, particularly before you are in any way impaired.

You may feel that everyone on campus partakes and hooks up, and that you must do so, too, in order to be part of campus. However, I can tell you that there are a substantial number of students who do not drink. (I don’t know current statistics. I know that, as of a few years ago, 50% of Grinnell first-year students had never drunk alcohol before fall break of their first year at Grinnell. I believe that at least a third of Grinnell students do not regularly drink; in a recent survey, about 1/4 had either never used alcohol or not used alcohol in the last 30 days.

I can also tell you that slightly more than 30% of Grinnell students indicate that they have had no sexual partners over the past year, slightly more than 30% indicate that they have been monogamous over the past year, and about 37%, well, take more risks. (Note for essay: That last statement sounds harsher in writing than it does when spoken.) And that’s with a fairly broad description of what a sexual partner is.

What do these statistics mean? They mean that you can make choices about what you think is appropriate for you and that you should feel that you are not alone in making those choices. My experience from twenty years at Grinnell suggests that most students will support you in the choices you make, even if they aren’t the choices they make.

If you do choose to drink, please drink in moderation. Self governance suggests that you have a responsibility to take care of yourself. I also don’t think that you will find that drinking to excess is more fun than moderate drinking. And, when you drink to excess, you are likely to put a burden on your friends or dorm-mates. If you don’t know how much alcohol is appropriate for you, your house wellness coordinators have handy-dandy cards tailored to a variety of sex/weight combinations.

If you do decide to share company with someone else, remember that consent is absolutely necessary. The impacts of not understanding your partner are enormous, to both parties.

I’m not sure the best way to say this, and I’m not particularly comfortable saying it, but I increasingly hear that the rise of Internet pornography has made many more things seem normalized. And that seeming normalization means that people too often consent to things that they really are not comfortable with. Make sure that you know what you are comfortable with. Make even more sure that you know what your partner is comfortable with.

Please use protection. And remember that protection does not just mean protection from pregnancy; it means protection from transmission of diseases.

Finally, there’s the question of the interaction of alcohol and sex (and, admittedly, drugs and sex). I believe our official policy notes that consent is still possible when partners have been drinking. I firmly believe that it is much harder to thoughtfully give or understand consent if one is at all impaired.

As I said before, I care a lot about you. Please consider in advance what you do and do not want to do this weekend. Be moderate. Care for yourself and those you are with.

Here are some resources on consent suggested by a student.

David Leppik Tweeted a very useful series of responses to this essay. Here goes ….

If you’re talking about consent, you’re having the wrong conversation. You don’t ask for consent for a weekend getaway, or to go rock climbing. You plan it together. Rock climbing, like sex, can be physically and emotionally dangerous. Take it seriously and take precautions. You need to look out for yourself and your partner, and communicate clearly. Not ready for that? Not ready for sex.

I’ll note that communicate clearly still suggests explicit consent. After all, you might plan rock climbing together, and then find that it feels too dangerous or risky or just plain unpleasant.

Thanks to Jen Jacobsen for the revised statistics.

Version 1.1.1 of 2016-10-06.