The Griff

Club Q&A Series: MacEwan Sexual Health Club

Campus

Club Q&A Series: MacEwan Sexual Health Club

Ashley Hlewka talks about providing inclusive information and sexual health resources for students.

The MacEwan Sexual Health Club is an inclusive, accessible resource for sex-positive information for people of all genders, sexualities, bodies, abilities, and ethnicities.

So, what do you do with the MacEwan Sexual Health Club?

AH: My official title is “president.” I think that comes down to being a Jill-of-All-Trades. Right now, our club is in a bit of a transition. With the boom and bust of the economy, unfortunately, gonorrea and syphilis are on the rise, and because of that, the STI clinics in the city are packed and at capacity. And so, unfortunately, we generally do an annual STI testing, and we can’t this year because Alberta Health Services is just stretched beyond its means. So, we’re trying to find better ways to be more accessible to the student body and just get safer-sex supplies out there, get consent education out there, and remind people that sex is fun, but be safe about it.

One of the ways you do that is with your locker here, right?

AH: Yes. We don’t have club space on campus, which is a huge issue, so we are forced to have all of our stuff in lockers.

How do you manage to get the word out about the locker?

AH: A number of means. Word of mouth is big, so anyone we meet that we talk about the club with, we tell them that if they ever need something — whether it’s a tampon, condoms, lube, dental dams — whatever they need, they can send us an email or they can Facebook us, and we’ll meet them at the lockers and give them whatever they need, no questions asked.

How do you get the supplies?

AH: We buy some using our fundraising and our grants. We buy natural, organic tampons and menstrual items. We do get some donations, often from HIV Edmonton, as well as Alberta Health Services, and we’ve gotten supplies from Options before — now they’re called Compass.

You — the MacEwan Sexual Health Club — actually did some workshops, I believe, with HIV Edmonton?

AH: Yeah, we’ve actually partnered with them on a number of different events. We invited them out last year for a sex toy/STI trivia game at Towers. They are often at any events that we put on. We invite them and other agencies in the community. The last time we actually had them here was for the Community Sexual Health Symposium, which was in May. So, it’s been a while since we had them on campus. We’re finding that the other clubs on campus kind of take a bit of the events that we would be interested in doing, but now we’re focusing more on helping students out.

To what extent is that partnership with organizations, like HIV Edmonton, important to your club?

AH: It’s extremely important. I believe it’s safe to say all of us on the executive believe it’s important to have good relationships with agencies in the community. Partnerships are really important to us, and we refer people a lot. If we didn’t have those connections, we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what we do here.

How did the MacEwan Sexual Health Club first get started?

AH: I’m not an original member, so — more than two years ago, it was a group of sort-of-feminist-activist students who were just noticing that there were gaps in the student services at MacEwan, so they formed the club to fill in these service gaps. They had the long-term goal of getting space on campus and, to this day, that is still true. We still believe that there are gaps in student services, and that’s what we try to fill, and we think it’s really important that MacEwan gets both a sexual assault centre and a sexual wellness centre.

How close do you think MacEwan is to getting either of those?

AH: Not very close at all. It’s been a very long process and very little gained, unfortunately. With the new SAMU building coming up, what we’ve been promised is a shared space with clubs, which is great, and we love to partner with clubs, but it’s not what we need.

Structurally, what makes your club different from another club?

AH: A few things. We don’t really have a membership base. We don’t have consistent meetings. We don’t have regular hangouts. We focus a lot on giving supplies and resources to students, and I can’t say other clubs do that. I think other clubs fulfill more of a social aspect, which is fantastic, and we’re filling in a need.

What has the general reaction to the Sexual Health Club been from the student body at MacEwan?

AH: It’s been positive. Often, people kind of see us and they’ll giggle, of course, because sex is funny and we’re not comfortable talking about it yet as a society, but it’s been very good. People will come up and ask what we do. We let them know. They grab whatever they want, and they’re generally pretty happy.

So, how do you see your club progressing forward in the future?

AH: It’s challenging, because community resources are stretched so thin. Ideally, we’re looking to just be at more student events, giving out condoms, lube, anything and everything. Perhaps doing more info sessions or film screenings, just to get dialogue and conversation going. Consent education is extremely important to us, so we try to push that all the time.

Do you have any social events planned?

AH: Yes. We will be having a film screening of Vessel [a documentary about the Women on Waves pro-choice group]. The date is to be determined. Unfortunately, we just found out the news about the STI testing this morning [Jan. 22], so we’re kind of putting our thinking caps on for events for the rest of this term. In regards to the new year, we will be partnering with the Feminists at MacEwan club, and we are hoping to bring in a speaker from Bitch Media [which, on its website, describes itself as a “nonprofit, independent, feminist media organization”].

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

AH: I don’t think so. We’re just trying to be more present at all events. The Laci Green event is a huge one for us. We’re very excited. She does great work with consent and safer sex and all of that stuff.

This interview has edited for length and clarity. Photo by Casey Pollon.