On the Forefront of Consent

The new executive director of Speak About It is looking to educate more people, in Maine and nationally, about sex and consent

Speak About It was founded at Bowdoin College as a theater production to educate students about consent and boundaries. Now, eight years later, it has grown into a national nonprofit that travels to hundreds of high schools and colleges around Maine and the country to perform skits about sex and healthy relationships. This past summer the organization hired Olivia Harris as its new executive director following the departure of founder Shane Diamond. The hiring of Harris, who’s based in Philadelphia, marks a new chapter for the organization and an opportunity to become a national leader in sex education. “We take our Maine roots very seriously, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow from there,” says Harris, who travels to Maine every four to six weeks.

Harris says many people don’t understand what constitutes a healthy relationship and that things can become toxic or dangerous if people don’t communicate with each other. “We often rely on social cues that are outdated or nonexistent,” she says. The organization teaches people how to advocate for themselves, respect others, and be active bystanders. Speak About It doesn’t tell people what sex should look like for them, but emphasizes that they and their partner need to be on the same page. “We just want to make sure people are making choices that are healthy, safe, and consensual,” Harris says.

While Speak About It mostly visits high schools and colleges, Harris says it’s becoming apparent that younger students also need education around consent and relationships. “The data shows we have to reach them younger,” she says. “Meeting their needs is increasingly important to us.” Speak About It is also educating the adults in students’ lives so that it’s “not just helping a targeted audience, but also the folks there to support them,” Harris says. “It’s going to take all of us to end rape culture.” The organization has also worked with retirement communities, restaurants, and parent groups. It hopes to applying future funding to work with other populations with specific needs, such as rural communities, tribal nations, and students with developmental disabilities. Part of Harris’s job is learning about what different people need so Speak About It can offer effective help. As the organization continues to grow, Harris is striving to stay true to its core of empowering everyone, regardless of age, gender, or ability, to make choices that are both safe and fulfilling.

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