Rachel Verner ’15 and Katy Thompson ’15 are on a mission to normalize sexual consent. Their new start-up, Let’s Be Clear, aims to start a conversation around consent with an apparel line and education-based programs. The Argus sat down with them to talk about the company, its roots at Wesleyan, and how current students can get involved.
The Argus: What exactly is Let’s Be Clear?
Rachel Verner: Let’s Be Clear is an apparel and education company that’s trying to get people to talk about consent. It started while I was at Wesleyan under the name ASK. I was working with the Sexual Assault Response Team intern, trying to find ways to get other people talking about consent and trying to get people to show up at workshops, and it just wasn’t happening. It was always the same group of people that would come.
There was this spoof clothing line that came out online called Pink Loves Consent. It was done by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, but everyone thought it was Victoria’s Secret, and it got 50,000 views in a day. There were a shit ton of people who wanted this underwear that they thought was about consent and [resembled] Victoria’s Secret, and there was no underwear.
So I started trying to design and sell underwear at Wesleyan, and we managed to sell two hundred pairs in a little less than two weeks. And then it kind of evolved from there into apparel and education.
The way that it works right now is that we’re running a Kickstarter campaign. Our apparel sales are used to help fund our education initiatives because there are a lot of communities that can’t afford to pay for people to come in and do workshops. So we use the money to help run workshops in those communities. And we’re really trying to create conversations in a way that everyone is able to access.
One of the tricky parts about consent and consent education right now is that it can often be a pretty polarizing conversation. You know, it’s men versus women, or it’s Republicans versus Liberals, and it’s frustrating that you aren’t able to get people to agree because they’re just focusing on what their differences are, as opposed to focusing on the fact that we all want to stop sexual violence. And by using apparel, we’re trying to lower the barrier of entry into the conversation and to make it easier for people to talk with one another about the fact that we’re just trying to create change, to keep people safe, and to create a healthier sexual culture in the end.
Katy Thompson: The use of common phrases on the shirts is meant to try and normalize consent in a casual everyday setting…make it less taboo, something that’s easier to talk about, something that’s not so mysterious. Because a lot of people don’t know how to talk about consent. It feels awkward; it feels embarrassing. Putting it out there and making it something that we see as easily as we see things like Nike and Adidas and “just do it”….That’s what the goal is.
A: You both are members of the class of 2015. Why did you choose to work on this project right now, in your post-grad life?
RV: It’s been in the works since my sophomore year at Wesleyan, when we started with the underwear line. We launched it in the Student of Color Fashion Show and ran it for two years. Then my senior year at Wesleyan, I received one of the Patricelli Center Seed Grants. It’s a $5,000 grant to start a business, and I’ve been working on it since. We’re launching our Kickstarter now because we were finally in a place where we were able to do that. We have our prototypes, all of that kind of thing. So it wasn’t necessarily, like, “Right now is the exact moment.”
KT: It’s been building up for a long time.
RV: Yeah, exactly.
A: Could you talk a bit more about your education initiatives?
RV: The education piece is actually one of the pieces that I’m really excited about right now. We’ve got three workshops that we’re working on: “How to Have Better Sex,” “How to Go On a Better Date,” and “How to Mix,” which is looking at alcohol, and sex, and hook-up culture. The idea is that, instead of talking about consent and educating around consent in a reactionary way, or in a way that uses scare tactics, or that talks about the fact that you’ll be suspended or you might be expelled if you don’t get consent when you have sex, we’re talking about why you want to get consent. You will have much better sex if you know that your partner wants what you want, and is excited about what you’re doing, and if you’re communicating. We’re trying to get people to understand that so that consent isn’t this thing that they’re scared of and that they feel like they need to get so they don’t get in trouble. It’s this thing that they want because it brings that much more joy to their lives.
KT: It’s less about the legality of it, or about not getting in trouble, or Title IX and that kind of stuff, all of which is extremely important. It’s more about the social skills, and the enjoyment, and the pleasure that you get out of engaging in consent in a positive and healthy way.
RV: From a practical standpoint, the workshops are all activity based so that you’re learning critical thinking skills. It’s not, “Here’s a handout and a PowerPoint, and let’s talk about these points.” It’s “What do you do in this scenario?” or it’s “Let’s think about consent in this way.” In the “How to Mix” workshop, the idea right now is that we’re going to be talking about [consent] as we make and teach people how to make a drink. So you’re learning about all the different elements while also learning how to make a drink.
[The workshops] are all a little bit different, but again, focusing on getting people actively engaged, and making it a conversation that they want to be a part of. I think that our workshop titles are pretty representative of the fact that that’s our main goal. This is a workshop that you want to go to, not one that you feel like you have to go to.
KT: And [it’s about] making the conversation your own as well. We’re teaching skills that are transferable and that you can personalize and adapt and use in your own way.
A: Did you feel like the workshops on campuses like Wesleyan were lacking in that regard?
RV: I ran a lot of workshops at Wesleyan, and the struggle for me was that we never found a way to hold a workshop that made people actually want to attend. We would have people that would say they were interested in it, but it was never a priority for them. And I think that part of the reason for that is because we didn’t think enough about what the value was for our attendees. We thought about the value in the education itself, but the education isn’t enough to drive people to want to attend the workshop. You have to think about what they actually want to get out of it and what the benefit is for them….That was kind of my big lesson in the way Wesleyan runs workshops versus how we’re trying to run workshops with Let’s Be Clear.
A: Katy, you were involved in Alpha Delt when you were on campus. Has that affected your interest in this topic?
KT: I think my involvement in both of these projects makes sense, given the person that I am. I think I’ve taken similar approaches. As Critic [overseeing the pledging and initiation process for Alpha Delt], it was really important for me to try and bring people together, and to help them find commonalities…and to find cohesion within the house. That’s a similar thing we’re trying to do with Let’s Be Clear. We’re trying to show everybody that we can come together around this conversation, that it is something that’s important to everyone, and that there’s a way that we can all be a part of it in a positive way. It’s really important to remember that we can’t solve this issue unless we do come together, and I think that’s something I saw a lot of in Alpha Delt. We were strongest when we were together.
A: How can Wesleyan students get directly involved with Let’s Be Clear? And what are your future goals for the company?
RV: There are a few different ways. We actually had two summer interns from Wesleyan, who did an awesome job and basically had free reign over the company over the summer. We all work full-time day jobs, so they had a pretty interesting experience. But beyond applying for internships, hopefully people can get involved through our campus ambassador program. We’re accepting applications now and will hopefully be launching that in January for the spring semester. And you can just get involved online.
I think a big measure of success for us will be getting to a place where we can start running education for groups, whether it’s a campus group that’s not getting funding from their university or a group associated with a community center. I’d like to see that happen a year from now.