As Valentine’s Day approaches, Dartmouth’s Sexual Health Peer Educators, more commonly known as Sexperts, have been busy. Not only are the Sexperts currently working alongside staff members at Dick’s House to host a series of testing sessions for sexually transmitted infections at different locations around campus, but they are also planning and hosting the Pluralities of Sexualities Fair in Collis Common Ground on Feb. 14 from 12 to 4 p.m.
On Sunday afternoon, Sexperts Brooke Hilliard ’18 and Ayana Whitmal ’18 were both busily making valentines and baking cookies at Phi Tau gender-inclusive fraternity in preparation for the fair. The two seniors got involved with Sexperts at the beginning of this year in conjunction with their responsibilities as undergraduate advisors. The duties of being a UGA required Hilliard and Whitmal to participate in specialized training programs known as Continuing Education Credits, and they both decided to become Sexual Health Peer Educators.
“Sexperts is a peer education group that focuses on all things related to sexual health: sex, sexuality, sexual health and sexual pleasure,” Hilliard said. “We try to destigmatize talking about sex, and we strive to make these conversations comfortable and fun.”
Whitmal emphasized that the Sexperts also make sure to engage with students who are not sexually active on campus.
“We don’t want to leave people who, for whatever reason, may not be sexually active out of the conversation,” said Whitmal, adding that abstaining from sex is perfectly acceptable.
Tong Fei, Dartmouth’s healthy relationships and sexual health specialist, oversees the Sexperts program, which has existed at Dartmouth since approximately 2004, although it has been inactive for several years at different points throughout the last decade. About 30 students are active Sexperts on campus, and they host several events on campus each term, including Wednesday’s Pluralities of Sexualities Fair. In addition, the Sexperts lead several programs for first-year students, and they help direct students to various on-campus resources, such as counseling sessions at Dick’s House, HIV screening and programs at the Student Wellness Center in Robinson Hall.
Fei, who earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri, and earned her master of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. She grew up in China, and the high school that she attended had no sexual education courses or programs.
It is that lack of programming that has motivated her.
“In high school, we were not supposed to have relationships of any kind, and our teachers did not talk about sex, but students were definitely having it,” Fei said. “It was stupid that my school did not provide information for students about safe sex, and China also does not permit legal abortion, so a few of my friends had no choice but to terminate unwanted pregnancies illegally. These experiences led me to learn more about sexual education in college, eventually, to become a sex educator.”
UGAs Hilliard and Whitmal have been undergraduate adviors since their sophomore and junior years, respectively, and they both became Sexperts this past fall. Completing the Sexperts training has benefited them in carrying out their duties as UGAs.
“I chose to become a Sexpert because, throughout our training, we didn’t really [discuss] how to have conversations with people about healthy relationships and safe sex,” Hilliard said. “We learned about sexual assault, mandatory reporting and Title IX during our UGA training, and we offer supplies for safer sex, but I wanted to be able to have positive conversations with my students about these other topics, so it was appealing to me.”
Similarly, Whitmal has found that the skills and knowledge that she gained during her sexual health training sessions has complemented her other abilities and duties.
“Going through [the Sexperts training] has definitely helped to reinforce other good aspects of being a UGA, like facilitating discussions, listening effectively and engaging with students,” Whitmal said. “When many students come into college, they are overwhelmed by the amount of social freedom that they have, in addition to other types of freedom. [Being able] to have these types of discussions [about sexual health] is important because it helps students transition into becoming more independent and having positive experiences with other people.”
Fei leads two rounds of Sexperts training each year, and each student completes 25 to 30 hours of training per year. She is also hoping to foster a better sense of unity between the Sexperts, Sexual Assault Peer Advisors, the Sexual Violence Prevention Project, and Planned Parenthood Generation Action, which all work to eliminate sexual violence on campus.
“I would definitely like to see and [bring about] better collaboration on campus between these similar and mostly student-led groups,” Fei said. “Together, we can make a connection between a comprehensive, healthy, and [dynamic] sexual education program and a reduction in sexual violence.”