A guide on How to Bring a Sex Educator to Your Campus written by intern Sexual Erudite, someone who frequently works to bring sex educators and other awesome speakers to her campus. Here are some tips and hints to make this journey easier for you! – Shanna
One of the things I get asked the most as a sex-educator-in-training and student organizer is, “how can we get someone like that to come to our school?” Luckily, I’ve done my share of organizing before (and have made enough mistakes!) and I can give you some general steps to getting that super awesome sex educator to your campus!
Start early (and ensure you get good seating)
When it comes to creating an event on campus, I’d say, the number one beginner’s mistake is not starting early enough. Unlike private events, or even organizational ones, university bureaucracy has a glacial pace – which will be worse if you are a state school, as you will have to jump through even more hoops in order to work with state regulations. Starting early ensures you will get the most help from your administration, and it also puts you in the best possible position for funding, which (at least at my school) is pretty freed up the first week of the semester and gobbled up not long after.
But we can’t limit this to just funding. You can be in an awesome position funding-wise, and it will not mean anything if you don’t have a good space to work with. The good meeting spaces tend to be reserved early, and you don’t want to get yourself stuck in that awkward classroom on the edge of campus just because that was the only place open. Having a central location will also help with passive advertising. What does that mean? An example: at my university, we had a couple of sex educators come to the student union, which gets tons of traffic that has nothing to do with specific events. People were able to see the posters about upcoming events, to be sure, but what captured a lot of attention was all the people lining up outside, and the groups tabling outside the event’s room. Because of this, we were able to attract a lot of people who were just wandering by.
It also gives you a better chance of working with sex educators’ schedules, as it is a chronically underpaid position. Sex educators usually need to pack in a ton of workshops and speaking events at a number of universities, toy stores, dungeons, educational organizations and conventions just to break even. The quicker you begin, the more likely you will be able to snap up someone awesome for your event.
Lots of time also helps you to coax the university administration over to your side, especially if your event is in any way controversial.
Identify your target audience and message
Identifying your target audience and message will allow you to do two very important things: give you an idea of which educators are going to make it to your short list, as well as help you figure out which departments, centers and student groups you will approach as sponsors. If I was trying to focus on academic sex educators, I might have to cross Annie Sprinkle (despite her awesomeness!) off my list. If I was trying to speak to men specifically, I’d probably look for a sex educator who was a man (in part due to male privilege) or someone who had experience working with men’s groups. Because these are both different events, I might look for different sponsors whose overall main goals coincide with the message of the event, which brings us to:
Diversify your sponsors (and your cash)
Getting the right sponsors (and the funding they will provide!) is perhaps the most important part of the whole process. It’s great to find a target audience and a good place to hold your event, but if you cannot pay your sex educator, or don’t have a plan for advertising, the whole experience won’t even get off the ground.
The best way to go about this, is systematically. I am aware that this may not be the same everywhere, so I have tried my best in order to make these categories generic. At my university, we have a range of organized bodies that would be applicable, that fall into these four categories: student-run groups, Greek life (both social and academic), academic departments and cultural/student support centers. The benefit of having all of these groups involved in your event is that a) you will have the benefit of different funding options and b) you will have backing that will support your case to the administration (especially if the sex educator you wish to bring is non-conventional), particularly if you have an academic department or center on your side.
So how does this work? Let’s say I was trying to bring Shanna to my university. She’s a highly qualified sex educator with a masters degree in sexuality education, for sure, but she can talk about more than just relationships and communication, including queer and gender topics, sex and disability, kink and a bunch of other topics. If I was on the committee of Bring Shanna To My School!, I would approach groups from each of the four categories. Student-run groups dealing with sexual positivity and social justice would be great options, greek life, as well as as the Women’s/Queer studies department, the Women’s and LGBT centers, and for Health Education and possibly even the Center for Students With Disabilities. Many of these groups are dedicated to spotlighting events related to their missions, and they may even be interested in having Shanna come to talk to a group of their students specifically.
For example, last semester, a Women’s Studies oriented academic came to the college. In the early afternoon, there was a RSVP workshop and luncheon for a smaller group of students, and in the evening there was a larger open-to-the-public event where the speaker presented in a more general 101 format. So, say, the LGBT Center or the student BDSM group might throw in a bit more money and advertising if they can have Shanna do a more private workshop for them in addition to the larger event.
The nice thing about having many different sponsors is that often, having a single funding option limits your budget. Budgets are strapped and as even more cut-backs loom, departments and centers that may have had the ability to pay for a speaker to come all on their own, even three years ago, may not be able to do so now. Student groups often have the ability to tap into student-activity money, which is part of the tuition, and is generally not facing the same budget constraints. However, it is often “first come, first serve” cash, so I will reiterate, start early! Sex educators do not get paid the big bucks, so even if you are not able to provide them with a large fee, being able to cover travel expenses and accommodations (which can often be worked out for discounts through your university) go a long way to enabling them to afford to come to your event.
Advertising doesn’t have to be boring (aka tie-ins work!)
Posters are a great idea, especially if you can get some of the student activity money to pay for the ink and the paper, but don’t let it stop there. As a student organizer, as sad as it seems, I’ve put the effort in to create posters, but the best way to get people to come to an event was Facebook. While it has that sort of evil-overlord persona, Facebook is your friend when trying to get the word out – because all it takes is a click and your event gets free advertising on someone’s wall to all their friends. There is also the ever-overlooked student activity list-serv, which will get you the most emails sent….although not everyone checks their university mail. There’s also your university’s online event calendar.
But don’t limit yourself – sometimes radically different advertising can be a great way to bring attention to an event! For different events at my school, we’ve had rallies and skits on the quad, random flashmobs in cafeterias full of people who will pass out information, viral videos, t-shirt giveaways and more. One particularly interesting tie-in to a body image and sexuality event was an art gallery take over, where people posed artistically nude or had the photos focused on particular body parts, and had different thought-provoking captions, and advertising for the event.
You can also use the university to help get some of your advertising for you. Contact academic departments that might be interested, as many classes here require their students to attend different events to broaden their viewpoint; they can be announced for you by the professor, but I’ve also had friends who dressed up and went to classes to advertise themselves. You can also see if you can tie your event into a week-long celebration or focus on a particular subject. Last year, my university had a week-long focus on women’s issues, and many student groups participated as well as the departments. The nice thing about this is that you get tons of free advertising, and often really nice extras, like professionally made posters, buttons, bracelets and t-shirts that will help remind people of the event. So whenever possible, piggyback on something that is already going on.
Your committee is going to have problems (prepare during the honeymoon period).
Whether it is needing someone to go pick up a presenter last minute (because the person who was going to has a 101 degree fever) or needing committee members to meet with the university president at 8 am on a Friday, something unexpected is going to happen to your committee. It’s also inevitable that there will be some form of disagreement, or problems communicating with your sponsors. Plan for this, as it will happen. Some things that have helped folks keep their cool (and run things smoothly):
* Alternates are your friends! Everyone in an important position needs an alternate and groups of people to rely on, in case of emergency, meltdown or (the dreaded) flakeout. Make sure everyone knows who their alternates are, and the alternates are kept in the loop.
* Request a representative from the sponsors attend all important meetings with university officials or mega-planning meetings. It will help reduce the amount of endless minutes emails you have to send out, and it will ensure everyone knows where the event is going, and everyone’s needs are met.
*Regular meetings. Changing up meeting times to fit schedules will not work in the long run. Pick a time that works best for most people, even if the head honchos can’t always be there. Allow email updates for people who cannot make it.
* Active listening. Enough said.
* Compromise. Just as planning a wedding is going to be impossible if the people getting married split and scatter to the winds, your event is going to turn into a chaotic disaster if the committee splits in half over fonts on the posters.
* When compromising doesn’t work, let them take their toys and go home. Sometimes committees fall prey to the dreaded toddler organizer, who, in addition to giving toddlers a bad name, attempts to derail the committee for their own agenda, and threatens to remove their grand presence if you don’t cow to their wants. Let them go, it’ll be better in the long run.
* Remember, you’re awesome. You’re going to likely get some backlash to your event, especially if it is less than conventional. Whether it is student paper editorials or people contacting you to offer their complaints (and in some cases, to tell you you’re doing a horrible job and they could do better and would you like them to take over and make it awesome?) you’re going to have to face you can’t please everyone all of the time. Make some time for the committee to kick their shoes off, relief some stress and rev up their self-confidence.