September marked Sexual Health Awareness Month, and one newly founded NJIT organization is working towards increasing understanding of this topic throughout campus: Advocates for Sexual Health Awareness. Associate Dean of Students Kristie Damell said, “When I become the Title IX Coordinator in 2021, I had a number of students reach out to me seeking opportunities to be involved in sexual health education and Title IX initiatives.”
Anousha Raina, fourth-year business major, and Sonia Daneshwar, third-year computer science major, are co-founders and co-chairs of the organization. Raina mentioned that she didn’t know what Title IX was until she began her position as a Learning Communities Peer Mentor for business students during the summer of 2021. “Before it even had an official name, the organization started as me and [Damell] sitting in her old office, brainstorming ideas on how we can bring education and inclusivity to the NJIT student body,” she added.
“Back in Fall 2021, I saw an advertisement in the NJIT SLICE newsletter and decided to join,” Daneshwar said. “[Raina and I] were both two girls who cared deeply about the values of ASHA and have experienced them firsthand, and the rest became history.”
The organization has partnered with the Murray Center, Public Safety, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and Residence Life for its past and upcoming programs; some of these include “Sex, Love, and Condoms,” “Purple Thursday” (domestic violence awareness), and “Take Back the Night” (the oldest worldwide movement to stand against sexual violence in all forms). Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Brittany Costantino has assisted Damell with event planning and execution since Damell first entered the position of Title IX Coordinator. From Sept. 12-16, Fraternity and Sorority Life and ASHA hosted a week of events to bring awareness of sexual health to the student body.
Monday, Sept. 12 had a workshop for Planned Parenthood to speak about healthy communication and sexual decision-making. This was organized by members of the Panhellenic community; presenters spoke about consent, resources available to students, and healthy and unhealthy behaviors in all types of relationships.
There was a tabling event on Tuesday to create awareness about the Red Zone, which Constantino stated is “the time period from about mid-August until Thanksgiving break where sexual assaults are most likely to occur on college campuses.” The booth had a wheel for students to spin and win a prize, and cake was also given out to students who stopped by.
On Wednesday, the fraternity and sorority community had the chance to review risk reduction tips and policies. Public Safety was present to answer questions from students, some of whom were chapter leaders.
Friday, Sept. 12 saw a program titled “Laws of Sex” to go over the essentials of Title IX. Students were able to participate in an activity educating them on the protections and procedures of the law. Public Safety officers were present here as well to go into detail about how they help students in cases related to Title IX and sexual assault. During the lunch provided, there was a simulation during which Public Safety marked some drinks to demonstrate that you should not leave drinks unattended when out in a public space. Condoms were also available for students to take to reinforce the idea of having safe sex.
“I love my university. I love the professors I have had the pleasure of learning from and collaborating with, I love the staff here as well — warm and welcoming and with great senses of humor,” Raina said. “However, although the student body here is beautiful in its cultural diversity, gender diversity is in lack, and many other young women such as myself have expressed that we feel as though the burden of the arid female population at our school is ours to bear.
“I can expand on some of my experiences and the experiences of others that have been shared with me, and I can even take them to the public with a soap box, but our events are not meant to paint one portion of students as saints and others as martyrs,” she added. “At ASHA, we have the awareness to know that negativity from misinformation spreads, but so does positivity from learning.”
“I have never been one to want to be on a club or organization’s Eboard, but ASHA is more than a club. We are an advocacy group, and the goals and values are the same ones I hold onto deep inside my heart,” Daneshwar expressed. “It’s a blessing to be a part of the first student organization officially under Title IX and to help this organization thrive.”
Raina stated, “We are the club that gives out free sex toys as a prize for winning a round of Sex Kahoot and, on the same coin, invites professional speakers that help engage students in workshops to advocate for our ideals.”
“We know that students would rather talk to fellow students about sex, consent, and relationships than administrators, so ASHA is vital to institutional efforts to bring awareness to preventing sexual assault, sexual harassment and dating or domestic violence,” Damell explained.
“When it comes to sex and relationships, we tend to be ‘hush-hush’ about it on campus,” Daneshwar said, “but it’s important to teach our community about healthy sex and relationships, since this will be the time where most be will be experiencing their first romantic relationships.”
“I think it is important for our students to be aware of the different topics we discuss through Title IX and Sexual Health Awareness,” Costantino said. “This is often the first time many college students have freedom from their family system, and we try to provide information that will be useful and maybe new to them — to help keep themselves safe and happy throughout their college career.”