GV hosts Sex Ed Week, community responds


GVL / Aida Dennis

Grace Smith and Elizabeth Schanz, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University recently held its second annual Sex Ed Week. Hosted the week before Valentine’s Day, Sex Ed Week events covered topics such as healthy relationships, body positivity and resources available for family planning.

Coordinators of the events said they aimed to spread their message in an evidence-informed, sex-positive, inclusive, affirming and empowering manner. 

The event was sponsored by GVSU Recreation and Wellness (RecWell), the Center for Women and Gender Equity (CWGE) and the Ottawa County Health Department.  

Kate Harmon, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Well-being and Inclusion, said planning for this year’s Sex Ed Week began last semester. They reviewed attendance and feedback from the previous year’s events in order to gauge what students were most interested in. 

The main purpose of health promotion efforts at the university level is to support student success,” Harmon said. “The committee chose events that provided a variety of educational topics in fun environments to help students learn to optimize their well-being.”

According to the CDC, people between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for about half of the 26 million sexually transmitted infections in the United States in 2018. Harmon said testing within the university can help students be aware of their own health and prevent the further spread of STIs.

We were fortunate this year to continue to offer free and confidential STI testing,” Harmon said. “Local health departments have assisted GVSU in providing STI test kits for our ‘Get Yourself Tested’ events. Events like this help our students protect their health.”

In a previous interview with the Lanthorn, Student Health Promotions Coordinator Katie Jourdan said the inspiration for Sex Ed Week came from Tulane University, which hosts a similar program. Similar to Tulane, the event incorporated both informative and recreational events such as “Peaches and Cream Social,” “Unpacking Relationships,” “Get Yourself Tested,” “LGBTQ+ Sexual Health” and “Kinky Karaoke.”  

In order to reach as many people as possible, eight of the 13 events were approved by INT 100/201 and in collaboration with several GVSU professors. Additionally, Sex Ed Week coordinators structured the events to appeal to GVSU students from a variety of majors and minors. By collaborating with GVSU courses, coordinators hoped to reach many students who may not have attended the events on their own. 

Resources about issues relating to sex are not exclusive to one week. The Sex Ed Week planning committee acknowledged that many students still have questions after the week of events has concluded. To address concerns, the planning committee aims to provide educational resources in a safe, inclusive environment. 

Future Sex Ed Week events are still up in the air. Although coordinators report a favorable turnout alongside increased interest, events will be determined by attendee feedback next fall.

The Sex Ed Week planning committee’s main focus will continue to be promoting the well-being of students and closing gaps in sexual health knowledge.

Students can continue to learn about sexual wellness through resources offered by RecWell including STI testing, free condoms and additional events held throughout the year. Members of GVSU organizations and clubs are also able to request sexual wellness presentations on topics of their choice from WIT Peer Educators.

RecWell will also continue to offer confidential free STI testing on campus the second Wednesday of each month from 4-7 p.m. for the remainder of the semester.

Kent County Board of Commissioners responds

The GVSU Sex Ed Week was met with opposition from some Kent County residents and board members. In the Kent County Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 9, opponents voiced their disapproval of the messaging used for the Sex Ed Week events, such as content about sex toys, LGBTQ topics and in-depth discussion about sex and health.

During public comment, a Cascade resident voiced his concerns about Kent County Health Department being connected to the events. The individual read out the scheduled programming of the SexEd Week and said that taxpayers dollars were “not appropriate” for funding these events.

The reaction of council members varied from support of GVSU’s Sex Ed Week to complete opposition of Kent County’s connection to the events. Walter Bujak, Kent County commissioner for District 21 said that he disapproved of “the use of the Kent County Health Department logo as a sponsor of these events.”

However, other commissioners offered support for GVSU’s efforts to promote public health and safety to students. Kent County Commissioner for District 18 Stephen Wooden said that it’s the health department’s job to prevent the spread of disease and infection.

“When you’re in public health, I feel, your job is to reduce harm, not necessarily to editorialize on the way things are being promoted,” Wooden said. “And if there is a conversation about sex and you have means to help prevent the transmission of sexually based diseases, I would hope our health department would provide that assistance to ensure greater public health.”

Additionally, Wooden said that the use of humor in these events can help to promote conversations around topics that could often be uncomfortable.

“Even if the method in which some of these are being talked about would not necessarily make a great evening activity for me, I express my gratitude to GVSU for providing a setting that is comfortable for students who may not have had other means to learn about sex and healthy sexual activity in their homes or in their high schools,” Wooden said.