Interview by: Otto Vock
October 1, 2017
India Wood is a fourth year student at Oberlin College majoring in psychology with a concentration in education. She volunteers as a program facilitator with Our Whole Lives (OWL), an after school program focusing on providing comprehensive sex and health education to young people. India’s work provides valuable insight into how young people in the Oberlin community view education, sex, consent, and the culture they’re immersed in.
Q: What’s the organization you volunteer for and what are its goals in the community?
A: I am working at the Unitarian Universalist fellowship in town. They have a program there that runs every year called OWL which stands for ‘Our Whole Lives.’ The curriculum was made by the Unitarian Universalist church because they felt a very deep need for comprehensive sex education not just in school but provided in churches. They developed a very elaborate curriculum, not just for younger, middle school age kids but also all the way up through high school. We cater to 7th to 10th grade students. Last year we ran the program and we’re doing it again this year because so many kids actually asked to participate in our program again.
Q: What are you personal goals working with younger people on these subjects?
A: I think one of my personal goals going into the program before I knew anything about it was really to, for myself, get a sense of what it’s like to work with kids in a community I don’t really know that much about, and meeting students where they are. Something that I’ve learned is just how different the community is and how great it is to have a perspective of Oberlin as the town not just Oberlin as the college. I also get to learn about the kinds of lives the kids lead here.
Q: What strikes you about the lives the kids live in the town? What stories have inspired you while interacting with the student?
One thing is I didn’t really realize how many students are home-schooled. They use this program as means of getting of getting health credit in the public schools. A lot of the kids and their parents don’t really think that the public schools have that great of an ability to teach their children sex education with comprehensive information. Although the schools have a pretty solid program when it comes to comprehensive fact based information, the parents wanted something more in depth for their kids. Many parents actually opt out of the programs in the public schools and have us teach their students at the church. I didn’t really think about what it was like to grow up in suburban rural Ohio before, but these kids seem to have a lot of fun. They just love to run around and be very silly. It’s just been a real pleasure to meet them and get to know about their lives.
"We always answer honestly. Our motto is that if student are mature enough to ask the questions, they are mature enough to hear the answer."
Q: What do you love about working with OWL?
A: I love sex education and I think the OWL program is a great program. When I went into teaching OWL I wanted to be somebody they can relate to more as a younger person, as somebody closer to their age. I really love how silly we can be together. One thing that I remember from my public school sex education was that it always felt very serious and our teacher discouraged us from laughing but I always tell the kids, ‘We can laugh! This is hilarious! These words are so silly!’ And I love just laughing with them and playing games with them and hearing about their perspectives of what talking about sex is like at their age in their communities. Sometimes it’s really interesting, sometimes it’s shocking. But every time you interact with young people at the middle school to high school age it’s like a whole new culture that you're indoctrinated in. It still feels like a crazy distant time for me but it’s really cool to reconnect to their realities.
Q: In what ways do you feel that OWLS has been ahead of the curve on important issues?
A: I think one cool thing about the OWL curriculum is that we have a questions box at the end of every class where students can ask any question on the content that comes to mind. We always answer honestly. Our motto is that if student are mature enough to ask the questions, they are mature enough to hear the answer. Keeping in mind, we are always asking, ‘do you want to know more about this?’ If they say yes we’ll keep teaching them about it, to a certain point of course. In some public schools they are actually not allowed to teach certain things in sex education classes but in OWL the students are the people that help create the curriculum. The kids help shape what we teach them because they are asking for information. We tell the student that if they’re ever uncomfortable, they can say so and not engage in the activity that we’re doing. That is super important because it's putting their learning into their hands. We do a whole crash course on what consent is and why it’s important to sexual situations, non sexual situations and fundamentally to everything that we do. At this age a lot of kids are learning that they can do things and get away with them and I think it’s even more important at this age to emphasize how important it is to get consent from people and always ask questions. Not just for a legal standpoint, but for being a good friend and a good person in life. It’s always better to be asking questions and waiting for responses.