How do we interpret physical appearance and body language? How do we create a space for communication and consent in a relationship? And how does alcohol change people’s sexual behavior? These were among the questions broached at the Clothesline Project’s campus-wide discussion Wednesday night in the Alice Paul lounge.
The discussion was in a panel format, with Charmaine Giles presenting questions to the group, and panelists generally responding first. Panelists were Seth Donoughe ‘08, Arielle Littles ‘10, Deoroop Matapersad ‘09, Karen Minyety ‘08, Nicole Belanger ‘08, and Doug Gilchrist-Scott ‘09. Before the discussion began, men and women separated, with the men holding their discussion upstairs and the women remaining in the first floor lounge.
The first question presented to the women’s discussion group was, “What are appropriate ways to approach people?”. When one participant questioned whether “approach” applied to friends or romantic encounters, Giles said that the question was intentionally vague to encourage interpretation. The women’s group discussed the widespread phenomenon of women feeling afraid to be assertive in repelling unwanted sexual attention due to fear of being viewed as “uptight” or “a bitch.” Other topics discussed were the messages that different ways of dressing can send out, and methods of dealing with unwanted attention in the workplace.
Doug Gilchrist-Scott ‘09, a panel member, felt that the discussion was a success and that the small number of men who turned up was actually beneficial. “I felt that in the men’s group, we were able to have a meaningful conversation. Because the boys’ group was smaller, it made people more comfortable in sharing opinions. A lot of people said poignant things, and [the discussion] was helpful because it showed the wide spectrum of opinions in the male population at Swarthmore,” he said.
At the end of the discussion, the men and women’s groups rejoined and shared their views on each question. Both men and women voiced concerns about communication and obtaining consent, preventing rape, and the importance of verbal cues in a relationship. Nell Bang-Jensen ’11, felt that the discussion was a good way to connect the Clothesline Project to life at Swarthmore. “I thought the discussion did a nice job of culminating the Clothesline Project,” she said. “It was a really intense, emotional week and it was nice to have the opportunity to look forward. It was really empowering to take those horrible experiences and to relate them to Swarthmore, and be able to ask, ‘Okay, what can we do about it?’, even on a day-to-day basis.”