It all started with an email. I was studying abroad in the heat and nearly non existent internet of Havana, Cuba, when an email from Pippa Raffel (‘18) popped up in my inbox, telling me about a program called Peer Health Exchange. We decided we wanted to try to bring it to Middlebury, but of course, the urban program did not see its place in rural Vermont. But that was okay, because we realized we could create our own Middlebury specific sex ed program. Between Middlebury and Havana, we began to brainstorm ideas and plan for the spring semester: our program would be modeled after Peer Health Exchange, consisting of a group of college aged mentors who would volunteer in Addison County Schools to try to make effective and positive sexual education accessible to local students.
During the spring semester, we named ourselves the Sex Positive Education Mentors (SPEM), and began reaching out to local schools, who were as excited as we were about the idea. We gathered students who were interested in becoming mentors, and applied to the Student Government Association’s Student Organization Oversight Committee in order to become an official student organization. We were denied. Pippa and I then decided to re-evaluate the focus of SPEM, and to spend the rest of the semester and summer coming up with a more drawn out short and long term plan for the group. We began working with the director of the Center for Health and Wellness Education, who mentored us and guided us to narrow the scope of our project and establish a stronger foundation.
In the fall of 2017, Pippa and I teamed up with nine other students who were just as excited and ready as we were to delve into this project. We collaboratively decided to move away from the concept of Peer Health Exchange, and instead develop a peer to peer curriculum, in which we would develop a sex ed curriculum for other college aged students.
Coincidentally, Pippa and I were both signed up for Professor Carly Thomsen’s class on the Politics of Reproduction, in which we needed to conduct a final “translation project.” We decided to tie together our developing sex ed club and the translation project, using our club as a medium for educating peers on reproductive justice. This was when we partnered up with Cicilia, our treasurer, who was also a member of the class and our club.
The beginnings of a real organization
Our group of eleven students began to meet regularly to narrow down the scope of our sex ed club, and decide who would teach what. The excitement was growing, and so was our curricula. Soon, we had developed five different units of our curriculum, one of which was reproductive justice. Many months of planning, researching, and writing lesson plans later, we decided to re-apply to the SOOC to gain institutional support. Again, we were denied, but we did not go down without a fight. The entire SPECS team fought for student org approval, and on try three, we were approved as an official organization of Middlebury College (yippee!).
On December 1st, 2017, with the full support of Middlebury College, SPECS kicked off its first workshop series with a three hour long session with mini workshops about STIs, pleasure and communication, relationships, and reproductive justice. After a year of hard work, we finally facilitated real workshops to real peers. The best part for me was when someone commented, “I learned more in this three hours than I did in all of high school sex ed.”
Stay tuned for the continuation of the SPECS story!