Not All Sex Signals Are Good

If you’re not a first-year student, your memories of Welcome Week might not be as strong as those who just experienced it. But every year for at least ten years, Augustana has hired an event called Sex Signals, which uses improv and comedy to raise awareness about sexual assault. Every year, students are uncomfortable.
I work in the Performance Halls on campus, which means I help run events in Centennial and Wallenberg. I happened to be one of the students working Welcome Week this year, and I worked Sex Signals in particular. Despite the fact that I was being paid to work the event, I became so uncomfortable that I had to step out. After the event, I emailed Dean Evelyn Campbell with some of my concerns and she informed me that Sex Signals is no longer going to be apart of Augustana’s Welcome Week and that she is already looking into options for replacement programs.
I’m not the only student concerned about Augustana’s awareness of sexual assault on campus. I spoke with first year student, Kinsey Johnson, to get a perspective from a student who had just gone through Welcome Week and to ask her what she thought of the event. When asked her overall opinion on the event, Johnson said “I feel like it’s a good thing that they were trying to get the message out there, but they went about it in a way that I thought was entirely wrong. They just seemed so insensitive about it, and made it almost too much of a joke.”
Seeing as Sex Signals uses improv and comedy in their act, it’s no surprise that they try to make their audience laugh to keep them entertained. However, like many comedians that joke about sensitive subjects, they always run the risk of taking a joke too far and desensitizing their audience to the real issue. In my experience, I’ve seen fellow Augustana students joke about all the talk about sexual assault awareness, complaining that they don’t need reminding. But I believe sexual assault shouldn’t stop being discussed until it stops existing. Sexual assault is not a joke and Johnson agrees, saying “I just want everyone to understand that it’s wrong, and to personally feel that it’s wrong.”
Seeing such careless attitudes in my classmates worries me and reminds me of another thing Johnson said in her interview. When asked what she thought Augustana as a community could do to raise better awareness and prevent sexual assault, she struggled to find an answer, saying that “a lot of the people who would do it, they don’t care that there’s a sign up that says all this, that this is a law, because they’re gonna do it anyway.”
Later, I spoke with Dean Campbell about her opinion. Her main goals with all the programs that Augustana utilizes are to emphasize the meaning of consent, bystander intervention, healthy relationships in general, communication, alcohol safety, sexual assault, bias-related incidents, and diversity inclusiveness. Ultimately, she said that “Number one is the safety of our students, every single one of them in all kinds of environments. I hope, somehow, that by listening to those programs, by doing the online programs, by going to classes here, and all the different things, that they’re able to keep themselves safe so they can accomplish the dreams that they have and won’t have something that they didn’t expect interfere.” We as a campus can’t make individual students take the things they learn in the programs to heart unless they truly want to, but constantly raising awareness with various programs is important to at the very least keep it on their mind.
In the original email to Dean Campbell about my concerns, I told her “I managed to sit through most of the first presentation and from what I saw, I also believe that the event doesn’t do a good enough job of teaching about sexual assault. It only focuses on one kind, the college stereotype of a drunk freshman at a party, and not much else.” That, in itself, is my biggest concern.
The lack of awareness of what fully constitutes sexual assault is what allows many perpetrators to not know they’ve done wrong, and even many victims to not know they’ve been assaulted. I’ve had to watch friends realize they were a victim long after the incident had happened. Speaking from experience, it is utterly heart-breaking to be the one to tell someone that something they had experienced constitutes as rape.
No one should ever have to be a victim of sexual assault, let alone one that doesn’t even know they are a victim. Awareness is incredibly important in ending sexualt assault entirely, so every program should be taken seriously.