By Marcus Lavergne
Students at the University of Nevada, Reno, want the campus community to talk safe sex and say “YES! Always.” The campaign, which launched Monday afternoon, seeks to educate the university’s population on sexual assault and promote an atmosphere on campus where peers can discuss sex and consent in an open and confident way.
Members of the “YES! Always” campaign have focused on an astounding statistic — one in five college women are sexually assaulted. Although the campaign is not solely concentrated around women, the problem is one that college campuses around the nation are addressing through several different means.
According to spokesperson Nick Beaton, “YES! Always” is taking a sex-positive approach to raise awareness. That means the campaign is not trying to scare students away from having sex or talking about sex. In fact, a large part of the campaign is normalizing sex as a topic for conversation. He says maybe the traditional “shock and awe” methods aren’t the way to go.
“We set out to get people to recognize what consent is, and encourage people to ask for consent and empower people to either deny it or give consent,” Beaton said. “We found that a large majority of people who sexually assaulted someone didn’t realize that what they did was sexual assault.”
Beaton says that removing the opportunity for people to commit assault means educating everyone on what consent actually is, something that he believes was not taught well during schooling before college for many students.
“We talked to a lot of people and asked, ‘how was your sexual education, and do you think you missed something out of it,’” Beaton said. “Nobody ever mentioned consent as something they received or something that they would have liked to receive.”
YES! Always uses bright colors and makes sure to add some fun into their campaign. A major component for it is their mascot, Consentress. The pop-art style superhero looks as though she was cut from a comic strip. Consentress dons fishnets and knee -high boots along with her red and blue unitard and yellow cape. For her and the campaign organizers, “sexiness” is a large part of Consentress’s personality.
Ashley Ploussard is the hero’s alter ego. She says that being the image for the campaign is important because the cause resonates with her.
“As a female, we’re not always asked for consent as the statistics show,” Ploussard said. “It’s kind of exciting to be in this position. I’m really excited to see the students’ reactions when I’m walking around campus.”
Consentress and what she stands for all goes with the messaging and imagery of the campaign. According to Rachel Felix, another spokesperson, students reacted well to the positivity of the YES! Always message. She said that sexual consent is something that’s misunderstood, but before the launch the positive educational aspects resonated well with students.
“Students responded very well to the fact that it’s positive,” Felix said. “It wasn’t making them feel bad about their choices regarding sex and things of that nature. Students are going to make the choices they’re going to make in college.”
A big factor in promoting the YES! Always campaign was funding for the Journalism 442 students who organized it. The Associated Students of the University of Nevada stepped in with funds to cover the costs.
ASUN President Caden Fabbi said that assisting students who are taking initiative in promoting an issue that’s as important as sexual assault and consent is hard to say no to.
“We have funds that I can find and set aside for projects specifically like this to empower students,” Fabbi said. “It was just the right timing with the right people. I know the J-school’s a really good school. I know Bob Felten from past experiences as well, and I knew this would be a very thought-out and well-done program, and that’s what it is.”
Students can get involved with different YES! Always events on Nov. 18 and 21. Consentress is also scheduled to appear live at different locations on and off campus on Mondays and Wednesdays for the month.
YES! Always can also be found on Facebook and Twitter, and resources for other campuses to start up their own YES! Always campaigns can be found at YesAlways.org.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at mlavergne@ sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @mlavergne21.