We here at ISIS frequently hear, “Why aren’t there any youth at Sex::Tech?” or “Shouldn’t you have separate programs for youth so they don’t get bored?” In previous years, we haven’t commented on these issues, but this year, we’ve decided there’s some need to expand upon our thinking.
Sex::Tech prides itself on being an intergenerational conference, where youth leaders and adults learn from each other and work together to create positive youth sexuality programs using technology and social media. Each year, a minimum of 25% of our attendees are youth leaders, and the opening plenary session is always 100% youth voices.
At ISIS, we believe in inclusion, regardless of age. Youth and adults are on equal footing for our 2-day conference, in the same rooms, hearing the same speakers from across the nation. Our reception is always all-ages, getting youth out into “fancy” spaces to which they may not otherwise have access, and encouraging adults to mingle with youth attendees as their peers.
It is also our philosophy not to indicate presentations by youth as “special” or to track presentations as “youth-only.” This is in line with the intergenerational nature of our work. We expect both youth and adult participants to go in and out of sessions - finding what turns them on and networking in the open spaces when the sessions aren’t relevant.
Are our youth mature enough to participate in a major research conference with adults? Yes, absolutely. Some of them are more mature than some adult attendees! One of Deb’s favorite stories is the moment when someone asked a group of adults on stage how they could best engage youth in their programs. Deb replied by pointing out the two young people sitting next to the questioner and suggesting that she ask them for help, maybe even hire them as staff!
We’d like to briefly cite some groups of youth (whose work was selected by the program committee, using the same process as the adult speakers) who will be presenting at Sex::Tech 2011:
- Scenarios USA
- Berkeley High (pdf)
- Sonoma County Peer Outreach Coalition Peer Leaders
- Scarleteen Volunteers
- New America Media
- Youth Uprising
- National Youth Leadership Network
One last thing: We believe that this is a model not only for Sex::Tech, but for adults and youth working together year round to communicate with each other about sexual and reproductive health and technology.
Let us know if you have any questions, and we’ll see you in a few weeks at Sex::Tech 2011!