Some Connecticut high school students aren’t sure if it’s possible to get an STI from hooking up on a really dirty sofa. This was just one of the anonymous concerns voiced at the end of an ASHA session at a local high school.
ASHA, or Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness, is a group on campus whose mission is to educate local students about sexual health. Its members seek to help high school students relate issues of sexual health to their own lives. This includes acting out sexual scenarios with a focus on consent. In traditional Wesleyan fashion, there is a strong emphasis on the importance of language. The ASHA core leaders emphasize the importance of gender-neutral names and language in the scenarios.
“The kids ask, ‘Is Alex a boy or a girl?’’’ one leader said. “And we say, ‘Does it matter?’”
ASHA held an informational meeting last week for Wesleyan students interested in teaching about sexual health, filling the Office of Community Service with students standing and sitting on the floor. The crowd was predominantly female, though ASHA also has male-identified facilitators, and many of the attendees were freshmen. Many of the existing members of the group who were present spoke about the positive experiences they’ve had with ASHA, describing it as impactful and lots of fun.
Instead of using clinical terms for sexual intercourse, ASHA facilitators talk to high school students in their own language. Travis Eckman-Rocha ’15 described the perception of the facilitators as “cool kids from college” with whom the high school students could more easily identify than teachers.
ASHA has been on campus for about five years, and in its early days the group focused primarily on events on campus. However, with the emergence of other sexual health groups on campus, ASHA has shifted its focus toward educating students in the greater community. The group works consistently with six local schools, and is in touch with 83 additional schools this year. Although not all of these connections will result in educational programs, ASHA is interested in expanding its reach in the community.
The group has three additional goals: raising awareness about STIs on campus, developing a new leadership program, and expanding its curriculum. Eckman-Rocha, who heads the STI awareness program, worked with student survey responses last year to create a brochure with information about STIs that is relevant to students, including a list of resources available at the Davison Health Center.
The leadership program is a new initiative that will allow high school students to pursue further sexual health knowledge in a class at Wesleyan taught by ASHA. The standard ASHA program focuses on fundamentals, and some students request a more comprehensive curriculum. The program will bring these students to the Wesleyan campus to teach them more about sexual health. ASHA hopes that these students will take the knowledge they gain in the leadership program back to their own schools and educate their peers.
ASHA’s plans for curriculum development include updating the information taught to the high school students and ensuring that the facilitators have a complete understanding of the material that they teach in the high schools. Facilitators undergo training and spend time in the classroom as apprentices before becoming qualified to lead the sessions on their own. The ASHA leaders emphasized that no facilitators will be put into situations for which they are unprepared, and added that it is rare and practically unheard of for a facilitator to lead a session alone.