There were condoms. So many condoms. And buttons. There were a lot of buttons. But mostly, there were people who were really excited about sex.
On Tuesday, the Women’s Activist Organization at NDSU hosted its 3rd annual Sex+Expo. The goal of the event is to let people talk about sex positively in the Fargo-Moorhead area. WAO teams up with other organizations on campus — including the Department of Women and Gender Studies, the Wallman Wellness Center and more activist organizations — to bring information, resources and speakers to students at NDSU and the greater FM population.
“We bring light to (sex),” Liv Oland, president of the WAO, said. “We make it something to talk about. We talk about sex, sexual assault and what it looks like physically, emotionally and economically. We also want to show what campus has to offer with the Women and Gender Studies program and with activism.”
The WAO has been growing recently. The organization was started five years ago after being dormant for years. While the Sex+Expo is their biggest event, the WAO hosts meetings that encourage students at NDSU to talk about issues that are given the spotlight at the Sex+Expo.
“We use (WAO) as an outlet for people,” Oland said. “We are one, big activism organization. And of course, we have a feminist agenda, smashing the patriarchy. But our meetings cover all different ideas. It’s really just a safe space to talk about really anything.”
This year’s event hosted many on-campus and F-M community organizations as well as two speakers. The first was Rebel Marie, who spoke about her story as being a transgender woman. The second speaker, Alyssa Gapinski, spoke about sex trafficking in North Dakota. The event took nearly four months to fully flesh out, but Oland has been planning it for more than a year.
“There was a lot of prep. We’ve been talking about it since December, but we had the room booked in September,” she said. “After this, I’ll probably go and reserve the room for next year so that we have it.”
But, she said, it was very rewarding.
While WAO hosted the event, many more student activism organizations participated in the Sex+Expo.
One such group was the Violence Prevention Educator Program that raises awareness on consent and advocates for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
VPE is also the group that hosts three major events on campus: Take Back the Night, We Take a Stand and the Clothesline Project. This year, they also hosted the Vagina Monologues, a project they hope continues into the future.
“People like to think that sexual violence and rape doesn’t happen at NDSU,” Kaitlyn Goodpaster, a VPE member, said. “Unfortunately, it does. This helps spread the message and raise awareness about sexual assault and violence.”
As April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, VPE is hosting an essay campaign to bring awareness to sexual violence on campus. The organization is encouraging students to submit anything creative, an essay, a poem or something else visually creative, to discuss their own experience with sexual violence and assault. Deadline for these submissions is April 13 and can be sent to Kelsey Keimig, the assistant director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy, at her email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to VPE, the department of women and gender studies talked about classes and how to get involved in the program. The LGBTQ programs (part of the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity) were handing out information pamphlets for students interested in learning more about the program or even interested in resources and facts. Even the wellness center was there, mostly advertising their informational session Sex in the Dark. Sex in the Dark will have “sexperts” answering anonymous questions about safe sex, sex in general and other sex-related things. The event will take place at 8 p.m. Monday, April 18 Memorial Union’s Century Theater.
Representatives of services, academic programs and activist organizations from NDSU itself were not the only groups that attended the Sex+Expo. In addition to these student-focused groups, organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Red River Women’s Clinic, Plants 4 Patients and Pure Romance contributed information and services to curious visitors.
Planned Parenthood offered a competition to students passing by, encouraging them to thumb wrestle with lube or to see who could apply a condom properly the fastest.
The Red River Women’s Clinic (the only abortion clinic in Fargo and North Dakota) offered information on women’s health and on being an escort for patients.
The organization Plants 4 Patients is a “strictly pro-compassion” group that creates pots and plants to give to patients healing in the after effects of sexual assault or abuse.
Finally, Pure Romance offered female sexual enhancements and other beauty products such as lubricants, sex toys, bath and beauty products for singles and couples.
This expanded the event to include more than just the NDSU community, allowing students and the public to see services and organizations that are offered on campus and in the greater F-M community.
An A for activism
Official organizations and programs were present, but there were also student activism projects being presented at the Sex+Expo.
The organization Hope Kits was one group. It works to provide care for people who have been sexually assaulted. In their brochure, Hope Kits outlines the steps victims can take at NDSU, MSUM and Concordia if they would like to report a rape or sexual assault.
“We outreach to the three schools to work together,” students Madeline Iversen and Rosie Carlson said. “We’re trying to get the Tri-College together.”
Last year, Hope Kits donated $850 to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center.
Iversen and Carlson completed Hope Kits as part of their class, WGS 350, perspectives in women’s studies. WGS 350 has students complete activism projects that can change or help the community.
Like Iverson and Carlson, Daria Liebe completed WGS 350. Her project involved designing FAST: Feminists Against Sex Trafficking.
“We thought it would be good to spread awareness about sex trafficking,” Liebe said. “It was something people kind of blew under the rug.”
Liebe is hoping the project continues past this year. Liebe and her group members are graduating next year, causing a confusing and difficult transition.
“I don’t feel like it’s something to be dropped,” Liebe said. As part of the project, FAST will be showing the movie “Priceless” in the Room of Nations on Tuesday, April 11.
Choice is Life is another group that was a part of WGS 350.
“Choice is Life is an activism group that fights for reproductive rights for women, or at least give them choice or options,” Edda Anderson said. “Our goal is to spread accurate information and options because there’s a lot of false stuff out there.”
The wellness class, issues in sexuality (HDFS 448), also has a student group presenting on sex in politics. Tyra Payer explained how her project looked at how laws affect sexuality.
“There are obvious examples, like contraception and abortion,” Payer said. “But there is also insurance, human trafficking and it defines felonies and penalties of child abuse.”
Recently in North Dakota, a senate bill titled SB 2290 on human trafficking was signed by Governor Doug Burgum. The bill will establish a human trafficking commission to work with victims and organizations to prevent future human trafficking and increase public awareness. Payer explained human trafficking is one of the things she and her group wanted to examine as they researched their project.
“No matter what your views are, I think it’s important to keep track of what’s going on,” Payer said.
“It becomes more than a class,” Erienne Fawcett said, assistant director of women and gender studies and advisor for WAO. “It’s a belief system. We have these folks that are all about freedom for men and women.”
Right now, WAO is planning for next year’s Sex+Expo. Until then, if there is something you would like to get involved in, links to the organizations mentioned in this article can all be found at ndsuspectrum.com.