How do you make a conversation about sex and consent comfortable or, god-forbid, fun? This question challenged members of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC), University Health Service’s sexual education group Sexperteam, and University Housing. The three organizations came together to create a new workshop aimed at tackling issues of sex and consent for UM freshmen. For months, volunteers and staff met, deliberated, and brainstormed ways in which to broach this topic in a new and engaging way. During a weekend retreat in a cabin in rural Michigan in the spring of 2011, all the collaborative research and creativity came to a close as Relationship Remix was born.
Relationship Remix marks a shift by University of Michigan toward using a dynamic, innovative approach to conversations around negotiating sex. This move is consistent with recommendations from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC, 2012). The NSVRC, working jointly with the CDC, emphasizes that a holistic wellness approach to sexuality education is fundamental to ending sexual violence. This holistic approach looks at the whole person, not just their reproductive organs, and strives to cultivate individuals’ awareness of their own emotional and physical needs, to build students’ communication skills, and to develop their critical awareness of the mixed cultural messages around sexuality. The underlying premise of this method of sexuality education is that by giving youth tools to better relate to others authentically and empathetically, we can stop sexual violence at its origins.
In the spirit of the NSVRC’s recommendations, Relationship Remix contains several interactive modules designed to get students thinking about and discussing the ways in which they engage with their most important relationships. The 90 minute workshop includes various activities: students identify their core values and share the ways that these values inform their decisions; they brainstorm their ideal romantic partner, piecing apart what qualities they require from a significant partner and which are absolute deal-breakers; they role-play asking each other out on dates, and then practice gracefully and respectfully declining an invitation to turn up the heat in a romantic relationship. Some students giggle. Some students shift uncomfortably in their seats. Others dive into each exercise with commitment and seriousness. The reactions vary, but for everyone who attends a Relationship Remix workshop, the conversation around communication and respect in personal relationships begins, a conversation that will hopefully echo outside of the workshop into the rest of their lives.
So far, the reach of Relationship Remix has been staggering. In the first year alone, 3,351 first-year students participated in Relationship Remix–approximately 57.5% of the 2011 incoming class. A subset filled out an evaluation survey and of those students, 86% agreed that they felt “more capable of making decisions that align with their personal values in intimate or sexual relationships;” and 91% agreed that they were “more aware of resources on campus that can help them” post-workshop. This year, student groups like the Michigan Student Assembly and Women in Science and Engineering (among others) have requested to bring the program to their members, an encouraging sign that workshop’s message may resonate with many throughout UM. While the numbers from the 2012 evaluation are still being compiled, these results suggest that Relationship Remix may be a powerful tool for broaching the sensitive topics of sexuality and consent—the creators of the workshop look forward to moving this success forward in the years to come.