SSIS is helping other sex educators get the message

Club members will speak at this weekend's 'Sex::Tech' conference

SSIS members (l to r) Elisette Weiss ‘10, Matthew Shear ‘11 and Jeremy Frisch ‘10

Members of the Student Sexuality Information Service (SSIS) have been invited to the “Sex::Tech 2010” conference, taking place Feb. 26 and 27 in San Francisco, to talk about the innovative method the club has been using to meet the sex education needs of the campus community.
Former SSIS coordinators Elisette Weiss ‘10 and Jeremy Frisch ‘10, and current coordinator Matthew Shear ‘11, will speak Saturday on the “SMS Platforms Made Easy” panel. They’ll be discussing SSIS’ free texting service, which the club started this academic year.
“Our motto is ‘meet people where they’re at,’" Weiss said, “and we find that text messaging is a perfect medium to reach students.”
At first, the club thought that would mean purchasing a dedicated SSIS cell phone, which would be given to whoever was on shift to answer questions that were texted in. But the plan changed when Google Voice, the Internet-based service that, among other things, allows users to create a unifying phone number that forwards the call, or in this case, the text, to as many different phone numbers as the user wants, was unveiled last spring.
Now, if someone texts a question to 586-ASK-SSIS, it automatically shows up on the personal cell phone of the SSIS counselor on shift. The response, in turn, looks like it is coming from the Google Voice number, which, Frisch said, is important because of its anonymity.
“There are no names and there are no numbers. In that sense, we’re able to maintain confidentiality,” he explained. “We don’t know who is texting us and they don’t know who is texting them back.”
But users of the service can be assured that whoever is answering their question is qualified to. SSIS members go through a week of training, facilitated by outside crisis and sex health educators, before the start of the fall semester. They’re also well-versed in the club’s 600-plus-page manual.
The text messaging service has quickly become a popular way for students to reach out to counselors. Shear said that SSIS has received over 1,000 texts since the start of the academic year. “One of the benefits of using Google Voice is that we have a record of every text that’s been sent,” he said. “So we have actually gone back through all of the content and used it to gauge deficits in knowledge that exist on campus. For example, we can find how many people are asking about condom efficacy, or how many people want to know about birth control, and we’ve used that information to help expand and evolve the programming that we offer on campus.”
When the call went out for panel topics for “Sex::Tech,” a conference that explores available tools and methods for reaching youth with appropriate sex education information, Shear, Weiss and Frisch thought it was a great opportunity to spread the message about their text messaging method to other educators, public health professionals, and technology developers from around the country.
“It’s a big honor to speak at Sex::Tech,” said Weiss. “SSIS is really proud about the way that we’ve increased our ability to meet the need and desire for information on this campus. We’re excited to talk about it, and represent the club and Brandeis, on the West Coast.”
The SSIS members will be live tweeting from the conference. You can follow them @ssisbrandeis ( or follow the whole conversation by following #sextech.

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