WATERVILLE — As a sophomore at Colby College, Jonathan Kalin was scrolling through Facebook when he noticed some students at another college wearing brightly lettered shirts bearing the words “Party With Sluts.”
“They’re sold on like, frat websites,” said Kalin, 22, pulling up an image of the neon shirts on his iPhone. The case for Kalin’s phone bears a similar phrase, but with the difference of one word: Party With Consent.
“People are excited about the bright colors and the party mentality, and I thought, ‘What if we took that energy and used it for something positive?’ What if we replace a derogatory, offensive word with something that’s agreeable to everyone?” said the philosophy major, now a senior at the small liberal arts school.
The Party With Consent movement, which was started by Kalin in 2012, now has a presence on 30 campuses nationwide. Kalin has sold more than 5,000 shirts with the logo and has become a spokesman for ending sexual assaults on college campuses. He’s traveled to Washington, D.C., and Denison College in Ohio to speak on the movement and was invited by Time magazine last month to be one of 15 essayists to contribute to a special report on the topic.
“This is something every college is facing. I think there’s a lot of work telling students what they can’t do and what to be afraid of, but it’s important to complement that with what we can do and what we can be excited about. That’s what I hope to accomplish,” Kalin said.
Fifty-five colleges across the U.S. are currently under investigation for the way sexual abuse cases are handled after allegations are made by students. The Department of Education has made the list public for the first time, as part of an effort to create more openness with a task force surrounding campus sexual violence.
According to a new report by the White House, one in five women is sexually assaulted in college.
The movement seeks to make men part of the conversation about the issue.
Raising awareness is the mission of Party With Consent, which Kalin plans to develop into an official nonprofit organization when he moves to New York City this summer. Part of the draw is that Party With Consent allows students to party and aims to offer them a safe place to do so.
“It sort of combines the fun aspect of having a party with a very serious message,” said Mark Tappan, a professor of education at the college. “Jonathan kind of makes it cool to take the issue seriously and it encourages peer support in creating a culture where people can party in an environment that is supportive and safe for everyone.”
In 2010, Tappan brought a chapter of the group Male Athletes Against Violence to Colby, after the group was started at the University of Maine at Orono. Kalin eventually became president of the group, whose name has since changed to Mules Against Violence, and started Party With Consent as an initiative of that student organization.
Kalin said that as a freshman, he was nervous about drinking and partying and avoided alcohol until he turned 21.
“For the first time I recognized, alcohol isn’t the reason why people are violent. It’s used as a way for people to take advantage of people who have drank too much, and that’s something we take really seriously at our events. The thing about college is if you happen to throw a sober party, good luck getting people there,” he said.
The parties — which Kalin refers to as “events” — are registered with the college administration, through a process that includes reserving a space on campus and providing information such as start and end times and a contact person. The information is shared with campus security, so officers can check on the party and make sure it is run safely.
If an event is registered at which alcohol is intended to be served, the student hosts are required to go through training with the college campus life office.
“It’s something we take very seriously, but at the same time we’re realistic. We realize that if you want to get college students to an event, they’re probably going to want to drink,” Kalin said.
When the movement started, consent was defined more broadly — simply encouraging students to be more thoughtful about the decisions they make — but recently the focus has been on preventing sexual assault, in part because of the national attention to the issue and partly because of Kalin’s own interest in gender issues.
“I don’t know how different those parties feel to students than a party that is not labeled Party With Consent, but I think that putting this language out there in the community invites people to reflect and consider, ‘Am I doing the things I want to be doing? Is this consistent with the experience I want to have?’ I think a big part of the movement is just posing that question,” said Director of Campus Life Jed Wartman.
At Colby, located on a hill that separates the picturesque campus from the city of Waterville, three sexual assaults were reported from 2010 to 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Education. In February 2012, 15 students permanently withdrew or were suspended from the school for violating the sexual misconduct policy.
The punishment came after allegations made by a female student who claimed members of the school’s football team had watched through a window as she engaged in consensual sexual activity with one of their teammates.
Kalin, who has been the captain of the varsity basketball team for the last two years, said he already had been working on Party With Consent before the allegations against the football team came to light. He said that through the group, he has tried to involve more male athletes in conversations about sexual assault.
“In high school those killer instincts were sort of preached. When we think about masculinity, we think about strength, and that means being in control; and if being in control means being violent, then that’s the way you do it,” he said.
Raised as an only child by his mother after his father died in a car crash, Kalin came to realize that women, too, can be strong.
Party With Consent started with shirts before it moved on to other merchandise such as cups and stickers, then to the events or parties; and now Kalin says he realizes the most important component of the movement is the education behind the merchandise. Last fall a student group called Sustainability Fellows at Denison University paid to have Kalin come to the Granville, Ohio, campus and speak to students about issues involving sexual assault at Denison and how to define the party space on campus.
Sarah Hunter, a rising senior and former coordinator of the group, said she heard about Party With Consent from a friend who attended Tufts University. Denison is one of the 55 schools under investigation by the federal government for the way they’ve handled sexual assault cases.
“I think it’s a problem at even more schools,” said Hunter, 20. “When I heard about Party With Consent, I was really inspired and excited. Rape culture has such a presence on college campuses and in society, and you’re sitting there wondering, ‘How do we tackle this?’ I think Party With Consent is an unbelievable starting point.”
There haven’t been any events yet, although Sustainability Fellows has hosted workshops focused on the meaning of consent and the role gender issues play in consent. Members of the group have sold T-shirts and cups. The first Party With Consent event will be held in the fall. Unlike other advocacy groups on campus that focus on helping victims of sexual assault recover and report the crime, Hunter said Party With Consent brings attention to the problem before it happens and attracts a broader group of people to the conversation.
“I guess the bottom line is that partying is something that most college kids do, and if you can tie social justice into that, it’s great. I’m really excited to see what it does when I return to school in the fall,” Hunter said.
Kalin plans to apply for a nonprofit license for the group, which meanwhile will live on at the Colby campus through Mules Against Violence. With his Colby degree in hand, he’s heading to New York in July after finishing volunteer work at nearby Vassalboro Community School, where he mentors fourth-grade students.
“Education surrounding gender and what it really means to be a man or woman are directly related to sexual violence and gender-based violence. I think it’s really important to connect those two and to realize a lot of the violence we see on campuses stems from messages that tell you you have to be something,” Kalin said.