Boynton group works to bring sexual education to international students

Now in its third year, the Sexual Health for International Student project continues to offer sex ed to students from various cultures.

Gwiwon Jason Nam

A student-led University of Minnesota group aims to expand culturally inclusive sexual education among international students.

Boynton Health has expanded sex education for international students through the Sexual Health for International Students project, which is part of Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education. The group will help host an event this month for international students that will include presentations and tabling to provide sexual education. 

“One difference that we try to be very aware of is in language,” said Kate Elwell, an adviser for SHADE and Boynton’s health promotion specialist. “Ensuring that all language is clear for non-native English speakers as well as for students who may be less familiar with the topics is important, and requires diligence on the part of our student coordinators.”

SHADE is a peer health promotion group that works within Boynton to provide sexual education to students campus-wide. The Sexual Health for International Students project is currently in its last year of a three-year grant from the International Student Services Fee committee. 

“Since the very beginning, this project has employed international students to help guide the process,” Elwell said.

Current initiatives include educational presentations and continuing conversations with International Student and Scholar Services to explore new ideas, such as how to effectively provide sex education to international students.

The group presented last month at the Small World Coffee Hour — an event where students come together to learn about new cultures, food and customs — collaborating with ISSS and the Thai Student Association of Minnesota.

“About 50 students participated in the events and a lot of them are international students,” said Sophronia Cheung, SHADE coordinator and second-year political science and economics student. They discussed relationships, dating norms and sexual health from a multicultural perspective during the event, with a specific focus on Thai sex culture.

This semester, the team is working on a video to add to the International Student Preparation Course, which is required for all international students as they prepare to enter the University of Minnesota. Vinayak Bharadwaj, a SHADE coordinator and third-year finance student, said the video will promote sexual health among international students.

In their first year, they hired experts to conduct anonymous online surveys that mainly focused on Chinese students, the largest population of international students.

“We realized that because this is something taboo for many international students, it was more like … people would be able to be to participate actively and fully if their privacy were protected,” Elwell said. 

She said privacy was a priority among both international and domestic students. But they also found that international students may feel uncomfortable discussing sex or accessing sexual health resources.

Last October, the group gave a pilot presentation to international students to discover what messages were most effective. They surveyed the groups afterward and found various levels of receptiveness among different cultures.

“I am from Hong Kong and when I was in there, we didn’t learn about sex education. I only took the biology class. It was not enough to understand about sex,” Cheung said. “So, I believe providing sex education to international students here is very important.”