By Lauren Foote
As part of sexual health awareness month, Youngstown State University invited Jamie Utt, diversity and inclusion specialist and sexual violence prevention educator, to speak to students.
Danielle Meyer, director of Housing and Residence Life, said Utt has worked to build more inclusive environments where students can live and work more fully as themselves.
“When Jamie’s work caught my attention, I knew I had to do everything I could to get him on campus,” Meyer said. “We are only beginning our ‘No More. Step Up. Speak Up.’ campaign to raise sexual assault awareness and prevention here at YSU. I know we are already making great progress.”
Utt started his talk by invoking the idea of the perfect party. He said a lot of Americans focus on alcohol and drugs.
“Every single time within the first few things that are chose, it is alcohol related,” Utt said. “There is an intimate relationship in the United States with parties and alcohol.”
He said people often blame and shame survivors of sexual violence for getting drunk at parties, yet intoxicated people are more likely to commit acts of sexual violence. He said there are also differences in the way we tell men and women to protect themselves against assault.
“Men are given no messaging on how to protect themselves against sexual assault or how to not commit an act of violence,” Utt said. “Women are given all kinds of messaging to draw upon.”
Utt said this creates three problems: women, as potential victims, are responsible for protecting against sexual violence. It leads to mitigation rather than prevention, and the conversation is framed through the lens of what you shouldn’t do.
“Rape culture is talking about what we don’t want to see,” Utt said. “Sex-positive is offering an alternative. Don’t do that, let’s do this instead.”
He stressed the importance of communication in relationships and offered suggestions like creating yes, no, maybe charts and other ways to make consent sexy and engaging.
“Sometimes making that inquiry during the act can be uncomfortable,” Utt said. “However, if you can find creative engaging ways to make consent interesting, then you can always keep the mood going.”
He also said people need to be more accommodating and not turn things like rape into jokes.
“‘That test raped me.’ You are rhetorically equivalating failing that test to the pain a survivor suffers during an attack,” Utt said. “It is not a joke, you have to be more creative and think about people when you are using rape in such a joking manner.”
Elizabeth Stange, a student and member of the Delta Zeta sorority, said she really enjoyed the event.
“I thought the material was really good for the audience,” Stange said. “He made a lot of sense.”
He closed the talk by returning to the idea of the perfect party. However, he asked the group to make it a sex-positive party — coming up with ideas to prevent rape instead of mitigating it — challenging the audience to think outside the box.
“My hope is that tonight is not just a thing you sit through,” Utt said. “This is not just a conversation that stays in this room. This conversation is one that you take outside of this room, and you discuss it with others and hopefully … people have amazing parties and also safer parties.”