Activists teach students about sex

By Daniel Gilbert

If you think coitus interruptus—better known as the pullout method—is a good idea, you should withdraw from whatever you’re doing right now and listen to a new social activist group on campus. Sex Education Activists (SEA) is working to fill in the blanks of sex ed as it is taught in high schools across the state.

Jennifer Tamayo, a fourth-year in the College, founded SEA in May 2004 as part of an internship with the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Youth (ICAH), and Advocates for Youth (AFY), a national grassroots movement. Although SEA is strongly affiliated with ICAH and AFY, it focuses on the state of Illinois, and the Chicago area in particular. Speaking of her motivation for creating the group, Tamayo quoted a statistic from the AFY website: “When you hear that every hours, two American young people acquire HIV, you feel compelled to do something.”

The implicit raison d’être of SEA is what it believes to be the insufficiency of “abstinence-only” programs. “The fact of the matter is, though abstinence truly is the only practice that guarantees safety from pregnancy, STDs, and so on, it’s not a route everyone wants to take,” said Adjoa Tetteh, a third-year in the College and member of SEA. “Just because they opt for the riskier alternative does not mean they should be punished by being denied the information they could use to approach the situation in a more intelligent way.”

Another member, second-year in the College Erin Moore, joined SEA because she considered abstinence-only programs “harmful, illogical and irresponsible.” She said that SEA aims to be responsible for helping to change Illinois legislation that mandates abstinence-only programs.

SEA’s goal is to influence state and national policy regarding sex education by raising the awareness of students in high school and college. The group has 15 active members, who meet weekly to plan out presentations to be given at area high schools and colleges. While no specific training is required for members, Tamayo says they spend a lot of time researching to be sure that their facts are correct. SEA contacts schools directly to ask permission to give a presentation, and has yet to be turned down, according to Tamayo. She said she is not worried about a negative response by either the students or their parents. “Even if we have to offend a few, we want to cater to the majority. More than 92 percent of parents and 87 percent of students in Illinois think it is important that comprehensive sex ed be taught in schools,” she said. “Besides, all the information we present is scientifically accurate.”

The presentations given at the high school level are scientific—and not how-to—processes. And while SEA distributes condoms to students who ask for them, the presentations do not explain how to use them.

SEA’s work with colleges has a different aim. “Our efforts at the college level are more oriented towards encouraging activism,” Tamayo said. “We brainstorm ways in which students can take the initiative towards spreading comprehensive sex ed programs.” SEA has visited and held forums at Northwestern, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Loyola.

The only funding SEA receives is a $5,000 grant from AFY.

SEA has applied to be an RSO, but has experienced some difficulty. Tamayo emphasized the need to be affiliated with the University, so that the group could open a checking account into which they could deposit the grant from AFY. The trouble with SEA becoming an RSO appears to be in classifying it—whether as a community service, or a social activist group. Given SEA’s mission, Tamayo thinks the administration may be engaging in some pussyfooting, wary of lending its support on such a controversial issue.

SEA meets on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. in Hutchinson Commons.