Campus events on week nights aren’t always well-attended, but the Ngage event held on Monday night brought in an impressive number. More than 150 students and staff sat or stood and listened to Pastor Aaron Baart speak about the dangers and the impact of pornography usage.
This is the second year Northwestern has hosted an Ngage event about pornography. Last year’s event was one of the better attended Ngage sessions, a fact which Dean Julie Elliott took into consideration when planning this year’s schedule. In her introduction of Baart, Elliott briefly discussed the repeated theme.
“Last year, we talked about it and it became clear it was an issue of interest,” Elliott said. “How can we continue and deepen the conversation from last year?”
Baart began his presentation with some background into his first exposures to porn as an elementary school student looking at magazines. He said that sexuality and spirituality were placed in different worlds for him. For Baart, sex remained a mysterious and dirty concept, a belief that he continued to hold for most of his childhood.
“The church hasn’t really worked to fix that,” Baart said. “We have this idea that whether you are clean or unclean is associated with sex.”
One of the discussion questions addressed ways NW can more effectively prevent porn usage on campus. Sophomore Natalie Kuipers raised concerns about NW censorship of websites.
“I get that we need to block bad websites,” Kuipers said. “But what about the sites that aren’t bad, but they still get blocked because they have the word ‘sex’ in the title? There’s got to be a better way to do this.”
After nearly 10 minutes, Baart opened the floor up to general discussion, inviting people to share thoughts from their small group.
Only four students spoke, bringing up questions of how to end porn and sexual objectification in entertainment, what the connections are between divorce rates and porn, how to help a friend who is struggling with a porn addiction and why the presentation hadn’t included more information about sex trafficking. Due to the time constraint, further questions from students were not possible.
The lack of time for student participation was an element that bothered senior Shawn Harmon about the event. He believes that more discussion would have given a better basis for future conversations on campus.
“Even though we addressed being a grace- filled community willing to help those and pray for those struggling with porn, I only slightly got more of a sense that people will continue the conversation,” Harmon said. “I hope I’m wrong if there is more conversation that needs to take place for healing and understanding.”
Some students also had concerns about subjects left out of the discussion. Junior Megan Cole pointed out a topic that didn’t receive any attention.
“There was plenty of information about the effects of porn on men, but no one talked about the women’s perspective,” Cole said. “We know that women are affected by porn just as much as men, but the discussion didn’t include any information about that.”
Although the Ngage discussion left some students wanting more, Harmon had positive feedback as well.
“Personally, I thought the Ngage session was full of relevant and eye-opening statistical data that facilitated great discussion dealing with a topic that can often gets avoided,” Harmon said. “I also thought it was a great balance of biblical and theological considerations to porn affecting the intimacy that God has given us in sex and how that has played out in the world today.”
Supplementing the educational information, Elliott provided students with local resources where students can hold safe conversations about porn.
“So now the question is, ‘How can we provide help?’” Elliott said.
Along with the free counseling services available in the Wellness Center, Barb DeWald and Patrick Hummel in Campus Ministries are available to offer guidance, as well as the off-campus resource ATLAS.