Over 120 students packed into Lamberton Hall for Break the Silence’s “5 Senses of Consent,” some in support and others in protest.
The event, which took place on Feb. 15, is hosted annually. The evening’s activities included a bondage demonstration, sensory workshops and a porn screening. Some of the event’s sex-related programming was met with backlash from campus community members.
On the Lehigh University Parents and Families Facebook group, one user said “This is disgusting!” in regards to the event. Other users called it “terrible” and “distasteful.”
Marietta Sisca, ‘23, a member of Lehigh’s Catholic Campus Ministry, said she found the event dangerous and potentially harmful to students.
“I don’t understand in what world a university can endorse a porn screening,” Sisca said. “That just seems so strange to me.”
To her, the event shows the Gender Violence Education and Support Office is not preventing, but rather promoting gender violence by “publicly displaying” the event.
“Bondage and those kinks and fetishes encourage a lot of sexual violence,” Sisca said. “The very offices that are supposed to be discouraging and preventing sexual violence on this campus are also saying, ‘Here are ways to harm your partner safely.’”
Outrage in the Catholic Campus Ministry’s GroupMe was brought to the attention of Lehigh’s Chaplain, Fr. Mark Searles, who called the event “trash” in the group chat and encouraged students to protest.
Since the outburst, Searles said his messages were reactionary and unhelpful for dialogue about the event.
“I admit that there was another word to use to express my extreme concern,” Searles said. “‘Trash’ is just not a productive academic word.”
Alex Meyer, ‘24, another member of the ministry, disagreed with the ministry’s immediate reaction and found some comments in the group chat offensive.
Meyer said he spoke up in the GroupMe for those who may feel uncomfortable or unheard.
“People shouldn’t be prophesizing,” Meyer said. “They’re saying all their views in a public group chat where not everyone feels equal. It’s more ostracizing.”
Although the event activities conflicted with his personal beliefs and he disagrees with the public location in which it was held, Meyer sees the importance of education on consent.
Genevieve Powell, ‘25, a member of Break the Silence, said porn consumption is prevalent and events like “5 Senses of Consent” can show students what healthy versus harmful sex looks like.
“Being able to critically look at and analyze porn to unpack why we have certain reactions and what is being conveyed can be important for understanding how these dynamics play out,” Powell said.
Caitlyn Kratzer, ‘26, joined Break the Silence last semester. She said she wanted to help organize the event on Feb. 15 to show people sexual activity is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, as a large number of college students are sexually active.
She said the event was advertised as a porn screening, but that did not represent the entirety of its purpose.
“It was fully meant to be about the red flags because a lot of people do watch porn,” Kratzer said. “That’s the reality of it.”
Regardless of religion, Searles said he believes the public exposure to pornography and bondage techniques could be dangerous for some students.
Searles said porn is powerfully addictive and can be a dangerous drug in people’s lives. He said it can also lead to negative body image.
Although he understands the club’s motive, Searles said he did not approve of the activities that occurred throughout the event.
“I really respect (Break the Silence) and the Office of Gender Violence Education (and Support) because those conversations are important to have,” Searles said. “We can’t just be blind or ignorant to them too.”
Break The Silence is set to hold their next event, “Sex in the Dark,” during the last week of March. This event is open to the Lehigh community and will provide students with the opportunity to ask anonymous questions to a certified “sex-pert.”