Sexual health educator Justine Ang Fonte visits Northwestern as Council for Race and Ethnic Studies Educator in Residence


Photo Courtesy of Mariana Avila Llorente

Intersectional sexual health eduator Justine Ang Fonte presents a talk in Oakland. She came to Northwestern as part of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month to present a week of programming and workshops.

Yiming Fu, Print Managing Editor

Justine Ang Fonte wants you to expand your definition of consent. 

Fonte, who is a sexual health educator, is an Educator-in-Residence at Northwestern. She kicked off a week of programming on Monday to a crowd of more than 100 students in Harris Hall. In her keynote speech, she discussed topics such as sexual citizenship, sex positivity and consent within and beyond a sexual context.

Fonte didn’t always work in sexual health. She first started teaching as an eighth grade math instructor in Houston, Texas. She said she switched to the public health and sexual health fields after seeing how disparities in sexual education were setting some of her students back. 

“Of the 24 students I had, two of them were already parents, two were pregnant and one was absent half the school year because she didn’t know that she was on a period,” Fonte said. “She thought she was sick.” 

Fonte typically teaches sex education to K-12 students and presents at universities and sexual health conferences across the country. The Asian American Studies Program, along with the Council for Race and Ethnic Studies, brought Fonte to NU. 

Growing up, Fonte said she didn’t learn much about sex from her parents or school. 

“I went to a K-8 Catholic school, and I was raised Filipino and Catholic,” Fonte said. “We don’t talk about these things. They’re taboo. They’re stigmatized. And ‘abstinence only’ is really the way I was parented. So I grew up with none of this, and I’m trying to provide the complete opposite with the students that I work with.” 

Fonte’s week of programming, which ran from Monday to Friday, includes events like a “Decentering Ourselves From Whiteness” workshop, a “Being & Feeling Asian” affinity circle and a discussion on pornography and porn performers co-hosted by Asian American Studies Prof. Raymond San Diego. 

History Prof. Ji-Yeon Yuh, who is also the founding director of the Asian American Studies Program, invited Fonte to NU. Yuh first connected with Fonte more than a year ago. After some scheduling setbacks, Yuh said she and Fonte finally decided to feature Fonte’s programming this May, in line with Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. 

Yuh said it was “refreshing” and eye-opening to hear Fonte connect the many ways institutional racism manifests and intersects with sex education.  

“What Justine does is she takes all of these different things that are related to sexuality — pleasure, consent, misogyny, gender, race, colonialism, imperialism, power dynamics, body image, self esteem, family relations, mental health, all of those things, and she sets them out for you and says explicitly — this is racism,” Yuh said. 

While many Asian American Studies professors discuss similar content in their classes, Yuh said she was happy to hear an outside speaker present on similar topics because she, along with many other ethnic studies professors at the school, have been called “radical” or “anti-white” for the content they teach. 

SESP sophomore Lily Ng attended Fonte’s Monday keynote. While Ng said she was glad Fonte covered a lot of foundational information about consent that all college students should know, she said she also wished Fonte’s talk was more inclusive. 

The content felt geared toward heterosexual relationships, Ng said. She added that some of the recommendations, including a slide that suggested more effective ways to say “no” to unwanted advances, seemed to blame survivors, putting an unfair amount of responsibility on the person who is feeling uncomfortable. 

Overall, Ng said she really respected Fonte’s work and was glad to see an Asian American person talking openly about sex eduation because it can often be a taboo topic in Asian American families. 

“It’s good to see a face like hers talking about these things,” Ng said. “And I think it definitely can be expanded upon to be more suitable for people who don’t fall into a binary or more stereotypical constructs.”

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