Last semester, the Chaplain’s Office launched the Engaging Sexuality initiative to help Wheaton students think about sex and sexuality from a Christian perspective. Kelly Urbon, the ministry associate for care and counseling and co-leader of the initiative, said she’s noticed a drastic increase in how secular culture and social media promote sexually explicit content and that this has left Christians vulnerable. She said the Chaplain’s Office hopes to “get on the front end” of discussions about the challenges Christians face in a hyper-sexualized society.
Urbon is co-leading Engaging Sexuality with Olivia Cerci, Wheaton’s first Student Chaplain for Sexuality.
“I think it’s important to make sure students don’t leave [Wheaton] without having opportunities to have good direct conversation [about the integration of faith and sexuality],and be a part of the student dialogue [on these real-life issues],” said Cerci, who is a junior communications major. Engaging Sexuality aims to help students address pressing cultural issues such as pornography, sex, and body image by connecting them with support and resources, particularly through a new multimedia platform.
When Urbon and former Chaplain Blackmon were planning the 2020-21 chaplain appointments, Urbon recommended creating Cerci’s position to “put a student face on a very real part of the student experience.”
Cerci gave a chapel talk in October and shared her personal struggle with pornography. She said the experience has motivated her to create deeper conversations around sexuality. Cerci will be responsible for connecting with a broad range of student groups on campus and communicating student needs to the Chaplain’s Office. Urbon described the work as affirming students’ struggles without shaming them.
Engaging Sexuality’s mission aligns with Wheaton’s Community Covenant, which calls students to defend chastity for those unmarried while upholding the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman. The Community Covenant further states that Scripture explicity condemns “sexual immorality, such as the use of pornography, pre-marital sex, adultery, homosexual behavior and all other sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman.”
Cerci and Urbon recently launched an Instagram page to share resources such as recommended reading, relevant quotations and links to podcasts and websites. Looking ahead, Urbon and Cerci also plan to partner with Student Chaplain of Prayer Jess Weary in hosting prayer nights and a possible on-campus retreat.
In addition, they are in the process of putting together a podcast, also called Engaging Sexuality, that will feature Wheaton faculty, medical professionals, and other guests discussing sexual health, biblical guidance on sexual holiness, and the effects of pornography on the brain and relationships.
“During COVID and after,” Urbon said in an email, “we may use digital platforms [for events]. A prayer service for those needing healing due to sexual brokenness or trauma would probably be something we wait to do when we can be in groups again.”
DSG leaders say they welcome a more robust conversation about sexality on campus.
Ella Graham, a sophomore studying Spanish and education, leads a Strongholds group that focuses on helping women address sexual sin. “What I say affects these girls whether or not they notice it,” Graham said. “That is so much pressure. I try to get the word out so every girl understands that struggling with your sexuality is okay.”
Another Strongholds leader, junior economics major Penn Moffat, said, “In addition to allowing me to share this experience I had with freshmen, [Strongholds] was also a great way to help me grow spiritually and keep me accountable, and I got to be part of the discipleship on campus.”
For the majority of the fall semester, Strongholds groups were allowed to meet in person in compliance with the initial COVID-19 restrictions, including social distancing and face masks. However, when Region 8 moved to Tier 2 in November, state guidelines restricted in-person gatherings, and Strongholds transitioned to online gatherings via Zoom or Google Meet.
Refuge — a student-led group which, according to Wheaton’s website, aims to “build community” among “undergraduate students who are navigating same sex sexuality and/or gender identity”— has also been meeting online this semester.
Over the past few months, Refuge has been reviewing and clarifying their mission to align with Student Activities Office’s requirements regarding student groups. According to Sam Ruff, a senior Spanish major who leads Refuge, the charter underwent multiple revisions to transition from the Chaplain’s Office to Student Wellness.
Ruff said that although Refuge has grown, it can be difficult to find new members due to a misconception that the group is a type of conversion therapy. He also said numbers also decrease whenever a large contingent of Refuge members graduate, and it takes time for new students to join the group.
“It’s so sad that we’re not past that [misconception],” Ruff said. “We literally just hang out, sometimes have tea or coffee at My Half of the Sky, or just talk about random stuff.”
Cerci said that Engaging Sexuality will differ from Refuge and Strongholds by focusing on campus-wide outreach more broadly.
Vice President for Student Development Paul Chelsen wrote to the Record in an email, “I have hope that as we seek to understand God’s good vision for our sexuality, as well as discussing areas where we struggle and experience shame in our sexuality, that students will experience Christ’s healing, forgiveness and freedom.”
Wheaton College, IL