Camp Quest and Consent Education

Camp Quest is a wonderful organization and if you haven’t heard of it, you should look it up! Basically, it’s a week-long summer camp where you do all the typical summer camp things – swimming, playing games, camp fires. But then there is also a focus on freethought, science, and philosophy. For example, there are ‘moments of science’, where a camp counselor discusses some cool science facts, and there is Socrates Café, where the campers learn about philosophy in an interactive way. Most of the campers come from secular parents and the curriculum is built on a secular humanist worldview, but you don’t have to be an atheist to participate! The camp is focused on being a safe space for all religions, genders, races, and sexualities.

I’ve always wanted to volunteer for Camp Quest, but I was always traveling when CQ South Carolina occurred. This summer I was traveling again (I arrived at camp the same day when I flew back from San Francisco), but I was able to make part of the camp! I was invited to speak to the campers about gender, consent, and healthy relationships since I regularly talk about those subjects to adults. However, this was my first time talking to children about it!

Teaching Consent

I helped run four separate workshops on “consent education” for the campers of varying age groups. Elyssa, a cisgendered woman, and Luca, a nonbibary person, also helped run the workshop. I think it was important for people of various genders and sexualities to talk about these issues instead of it all coming from one source. The first thing we talked about was simply the difference between gender and sex. Gender being what a person identifies as and sex meaning their chromosomes and their sexual organs. The kids seemed to grasp this well, but there was some confusion with the younger kids. And to be fair, many adults still do not know the difference. So it was great to just introduce to them that sexuality and gender is a complicated thing on a spectrum.

The next part was on consent and healthy relationships and I was very interested to see how this would go with children. With the younger children (8-12), we talked about consent in a general sense. What is consent? When do you need it? We used examples of asking if it is okay to hug someone and the brilliant cup of tea metaphor for consent. The younger kids seemed to really understand that you need permission before you can invade someone’s personal space, which was great to observe.

Imagine if all children were able to learn these lessons at an early age without certain religious groups trying to remove sexual education from schools!With the older kids (13-17), we did talk about consent in a sexual and romantic sense. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well and quickly the kids understood the concept. Even when I explained how sometimes you are not owed an explanation or closure when someone says “no” the kids all nodded in agreement.

The part that may have been the most tricky (and potentially most important) was when talking about alcohol. We discussed how sometimes you may not be able to give or receive consent if there is a substance involved which alters cognitive functioning. Again, the tea metaphor was great for illustrating this point. If someone is drunk, would you trust them to receive very hot tea as they could burn themselves? I was so happy to see the children understand how consent cannot be given if a person is not sober. A male camper actually found me after the presentation and thanked me for clearing that up for him as he always wondered how alcohol affects consent.

Overall, I was so happy to be able to help out and share what I’ve learned with the children. Hopefully, they will share what they learned with other kids and we can start to see the horrific rates of sexual violence decrease.

I would highly encourage anyone not familiar with Camp Quest to look into volunteering or sending your kids there! I was only going to help out with the consent ed workshops, but I had so much fun at camp that I stayed the rest of that day and the following day as well. It was great to see how wonderful and curious kids can be before they are influenced by the corrupt parts of society.

Matthew Facciani (University of South Carolina)

FaccianiheadshotMatthew graduated from Westminster College where he earned a B.A. in psychology with honors. After college, Facciani went on to pursue a PhD in cognitive neuroscience at The University of South Carolina. While in studying neuroscience, Facciani realized that he was more interested in studying human behavior from a broader perspective and switched into the sociology PhD program at the University of South Carolina. Outside of his academic work, Facciani gives talks and writes articles about science for general audiences and is also an activist for gender equality and sexual violence prevention.  Learn more about Facciani’s work and follow him on Twitter @MatthewFacciani.

2 responses to “Camp Quest and Consent Education

  1. My youngest daughter has been to Camp Quest twice, loved it both times. I highly recommend it.

    The Unitarian Universalists also have good classes on sex education for different age groups (their program is called OWL for “our whole lives”, including sessions on relationships and consent. When my daughter was in 8th grade, she took a whole year of this class, which included an LGBT panel and a visit from Planned Parenthood. For people who don’t have Camp Quest in their area, this could be a good alternative.

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