Speak About It veteran actor Luke Lamar shares his experiences.
Show of hands: Who remembers their college orientation? Okay, in my optimistic view, at least a few of you heaved an arm skyward. Let’s try a better question: Who remembers an orientation event, one that actually stuck in your mind on the way out of the auditorium and maybe even helped shape your life at college and beyond? I do.
Speak About It was a new program on Bowdoin’s campus when I arrived the fall of my first year. Student-written and performed, it was a program designed to introduce us fresh-faced first years to the joys and challenges of sex in college, inform us about consent, and teach us how to watch out for each other and ourselves. Walking into that auditorium, I knew none of this. All I knew was that I and my 400 compatriots were there for the “sex talk” with all the vagaries and connotations contained within those quotation marks.
I won’t give you a complete play-by-play, but here’s what happened. I laughed. I cried. I squirmed a little bit in my seat. But most importantly, I thought. I thought as I listened to a monologue that hit close to home. I thought about what consent and being an active bystander really meant. And I thought as I learned the statistics about sexual assault and rape on campus.
The mere suggestion of a first year actually thinking that hard during an orientation event probably gets most administrators’ hearts beating a little faster, but it didn’t stop there.
As we filed out of that auditorium to our discussion groups, where we had a space to digest what we’d seen, I remember the thoughts circling inside my head. Were that many of my classmates at risk for an assault? Were the majority of assailants men? If a small percentage of men were the perpetrators, what were the rest of us doing? What was I doing? What was I going to do?
Fortunately for me, at Bowdoin there were plenty of options for me to get involved. I became a member of BMASV (Bowdoin Men Against Sexual Violence), a men’s group dedicated to supporting the (majority) female anti-sexual assault groups and raising awareness and discussion about these issues among the men on campus. The primary vehicle for these discussions were facilitations with sports teams. It was there, sitting in the audience of the football team’s facilitation, that I was introduced to the group. Telling the full story of what BMASV did and does is not my intent, but the questions raised in me by Speak About It led me to the group that I would join and then co-lead for three years.
At the end of my college career my path once again intersected with Speak About It. As they had been for me, the intervening years had been transformative for the program. It was still put on for the first years at Bowdoin, a performance I saw two more times as a proctor shepherding my own flock of new students. But it had also evolved into a separate traveling performance, spreading the message and challenging students at other colleges and high schools across the country. Through the quirks of what I must call fate, my open schedule and the need for an actor overlapped. It was a circle completed; I would be acting in the very show that had inspired me four years prior.
I’ll admit it, I was nervous. I knew the casts needed a mix of educators and actors to deliver the message properly and I knew I fit squarely in the educator category. I think the last stage I had been on was for a 4th grade clarinet recital. And now I had signed up to travel across the country and talk to thousands of incoming first years about sex. Now that I think about it, terrified is probably a better word than nervous to describe how I was feeling.
I remember the first time I read from the script at rehearsal. Frankly, it was terrible. But the director coached and encouraged me, and I was lucky enough to have plenty of wonderful actors by my side to learn from. Before long I learned the lines, the blocking, and even how to put human emotion into words! Then it was time to hit the road. My cast’s first destination: Cornell University. Road tripping across New England with four other sex educators in a mini-van is one of the better ways to travel, in my opinion.
When we arrived, it was time for our first test: A live college audience. Waiting off-stage in that first auditorium full of a couple hundred waiting students, I noticed with calm detachment how the blood left my extremities for the false refuge of my internal organs and my adrenal glands dumped their payloads into my bloodstream. But we were a team. We pumped each other up to a cheer of “1, 2, 3, Sex!” and with our sweet playlist winding down in the background, we took that stage. And wouldn’t you know, it actually went well! Our jokes landed (for the most part), our monologues delivered, and as far as one can tell from on stage, our message was received.
Since Speak About It first began touring, my fellow cast mates and I have repeated some version of that story many times for over 25,000 high school and college students. We have struggled, we have triumphed, and it is the best work I have done yet in my young life.
Can I say that we solved the problem of sexual assault on the campuses we visited? No. Can I claim to have changed the course of thousands of young lives? Maybe, but I won’t. But what I can claim is that for an hour we made students in the audience think about consent and evaluate their own choices. And at a time when I see my newsfeed clogged with so many confessionals from rape victims and charges leveled against universities for failing to respond properly, I know that we have to start somewhere.
Speak About It is the best way I know to reach incoming college students when it comes to talking about consent and sexual assault on campus. Speak About It teaches that consent means the presence of an enthusiastic yes, the realities of sexual assault on college campuses, and how to help a peer in a potentially dangerous situation. I can’t guarantee that seeing Speak About It will launch you down the path of sexual assault awareness and prevention that I found, but I can say from experience that it certainly has the power to do so.