Bowdoin Healthy Relationships (BHeRe), a new student group this year, has assumed the programming responsibilities the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), which the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education reformatted last spring to become a coalition for other student groups that work to prevent sexual assault on campus.
The loss of ASAP programming means that events formerly organized by the group, such as Date Week and Consent Week, are now being incorporated into BHeRe planning. These programming efforts culminated this past week in Healthy Relationships Week, with programming ranging from active discussions on race, sexual identity and dating to dinners with professors and the Senior Sex Panel.
Anna Martens ’20, a co-leader of BHeRe along with Monica Xing ’19, is very excited to bring BHeRe’s perspective on relationships to campus, and this week’s Healthy Relationships Week was the first step.
According to the group, healthy relationships can be anything from healthy friendships, to hookups or dating, and the organization strives to promote these. Following the increase in events promoting awareness of sexual and gender violence on campus, largely due to ASAP, Martens believes the club contributes a new perspective to the College.
“It’s a new form of messaging that we haven’t really had at Bowdoin yet, which is much more broad and positive, like, ‘This is what a healthy relationship is,’ versus … ‘Don’t do this,’ so we’re very much so trying to find the other side of that,” said Martens.
Shea Necheles ’18, a co-leader of Safe Space and a student employee of the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education, echoed Martens’ sentiments, saying that the healthy relationships that BHeRe promotes are a basic level of sexual assault prevention.
“We’re trying to create a culture where sexual assault won’t happen, and part of the culture where sexual assault won’t happen is culture where people are engaging in healthy relationships,” she said.
Until this school year, ASAP had organized much of the programming surrounding sexual assault prevention and dating violence, though the group was initially intended to serve as a coalition of student leaders under the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education. In May, the Office decided to return ASAP to its original coalition-building focus.
“[ASAP is now] doing a lot of work in building connections, hoping that those connections will ultimately help programming the groups do on their own, but the group itself isn’t a programming body,” said Lisa Peterson, the associate director of the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education, who oversees BHeRe and ASAP.
BHeRe was formed after Peterson and Benje Douglas, director of the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education, recognized a gap in programming about healthy relationships and dating violence on the part of both the Office and student groups, but needed students to demonstrate interest in spearheading a group to fill that gap. Xing, who participated in Peterson’s healthy relationships workshop, and Martens, who participated in her gender violence prevention education leadership institute, approached Peterson in the spring, expressing interest in getting more involved in promoting healthy relationships on campus.
“I pitched to them that there’s space for a student group if that’s something they were interested in, and they were both very excited about the possibility associated with that,” she said.
The restructuring of ASAP this past spring worried last year’s members of the group because it was unclear which groups would assume the programs that the organization had created. The change to a coalition, however, has allowed other groups, such as BHeRe, to organize its own campus-wide programming.
“I think that having [ASAP] now be focused on coalition building has really opened the landscape for students to feel comfortable coming forward and working on their own initiative,” said Peterson.
Necheles is one of the conveners of ASAP this year, working to facilitate meetings between BHeRe and the other constituent groups of ASAP—Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence (BMASV), V Space, Safe Space, the Sex Project and fEMPOWER—throughout the school year to ensure that all voices are heard.
“The important thing is that we have programing for everyone; so one piece of programming doesn’t necessarily tick all the boxes, but rather we are ticking all the boxes by producing as much programming as possible,” said Necheles.
This week’s programming has achieved some of Martens’ major initial goals for the organization.
“We wanted to do a concentrated week just to like power it out there… it’s been a really big visibility move as well as conversation and capturing a broad range of objectives for the semester,” said Martens.
“I guess I just want students to see gender violence as applicable to every person, that no matter your experience or your identity, that it’s really messaging that’s important as a community,” she added.
Emily Cohen contributed to this report.