Since the latter half of the twentieth century, sex education has been a vital part of growing up, a rite of passage of sorts. It is that moment in middle school when a teacher (or your parents) tells you about the bird and the bees, and students laugh in order to ease the awkward tension.
Faculty, administration, and students on the Island, however, decided to take a different approach to this quintessence of hushed whispers, giggles, and red faces. Dean of Student Life Mary Liscinsky shared the impetus for the discussions, mentioning that it came out of a conversation with senior students who said students were talking about topics involving physical intimacy.
On the second of October during class meetings, underclassmen observed separate fishbowl discussions regarding healthy relationships, and, among other things, sex. Some boys in my discussion group might say that the experience was helpful and made their thoughts, worries, etc., less ambiguous. Dean Liscinsky added that the objective was for kids to see how to communicate about these issues and that they are not alone.
I think this goal was overall met, but not without some flaws. The discussion started off well. The upperclassmen discussed topics regarding masculinity and what it means to have a healthy relationship. This was all useful information. They also touched upon this year’s first school dance and reminisced about their first dance, including details about how they attempted to grind with as many girls as they could. Furthermore, they discussed the St. Paul’s incident. They explained the case in detail (which was helpful to those unaware), which is a worthwhile conversation in order to avoid something like that happening here at Loomis.
They then strictly cautioned us against engaging in the same type of behavior that resulted in “the St. Paul’s incident.” Specific laws were explained regarding sex, age, consent, and other things.
They then went on to talk about sex. Anyone paying attention could probably infer who had partaken in these sexual experiences. Honestly, both of these topics (the St. Paul’s incident and students’ sexual experiences) are appropriate. It is also important to hear from peers about their own personal experiences in order to start forming your own opinions. However, in my opinion, these topics discussed at the same time sent a mixed message.
Whether or not the discussion facilitators did so intentionally, I felt as though they indirectly encouraged sexual activity while at the same time warning against behaviors that could lead to a scandal here at Loomis. This can cause an abundance of confusion, which is certainly unneeded at our age with such a serious topic.
When I think about the discussions, the primary takeaway for me was about respect. Loomis is not dissimilar from St. Paul’s in that we too have a “hookup culture” like most high schools and boarding schools in America. What differentiates us, however, is Loomis’ culture around being one’s best self and the common good. To me, being one’s best self means respecting oneself, one’s friends, family, classmates and teachers, and school. A school culture that even inadvertently encourages “hooking up” is not one that truly encourages behavior that is respectful of ourselves and others.
Another message I heard was about respect being more than using the right words. It also means ensuring your actions are consistent with your words. Mr. Eric LaForest, director of the Norton Family Center for the Common Good, said that one of the goals was to help students understand the topic of respect and consent crosses all lines and applies to any number of situations – not just those involving physical intimacy.
I leave you with this to consider: are your actions and the words that you use in all of your daily interactions consistent with Loomis’s call to being our best selves? If not, hopefully the Fishbowl Discussions changed that.