Yes, no, maybe so: A Q&A with Party with Consent’s Jonathan Kalin

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PROVIDENCE – As debate rages about binge drinking, the hookup culture, and sexual assault on campus, 24-year-old Jonathan Kalin is trying to make “consent” an attractive subject.

As the founder and executive director of Party with Consent, a group that works to end sexual violence, Kalin gets the word out through “bro tanks” with a neon logo splashed on the front, plastic cups labeled with the campaign’s name and other fraternity-friendly methods to make consent cool.

Kalin, who also coaches a high school basketball team in Providence, talked with the NewBostonPost over the phone Thursday to discuss his campaign. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

NBP: Tell me how you got involved with Party with Consent, and how it started?

Kalin: When I was a sophomore at Colby, in the spring I was named both captain of college basketball team and president of group called Male Athletes Against Violence. This was at the height of a very public conversation about sexual health on campus because of a sexual exploitation case that led to multiple men on the football team on our campus getting suspended or expelled.

That prompted sort of a moment of obligation for me. The campus, at the time, was pretty stereotypically divided on why the information wasn’t explained. The male athletes were sort of like, “Our friends got kicked out of school. We’re thinking this is being taken too seriously. Why is everyone so serious about this.”

(Around that time) I saw a tank top that said “Party with Sluts” in neon fonts. It showed up in frat YouTube videos. People thought they were funny. I was holistically curious about the shirts. I asked guys in the athletic realm about them and they said, “We want to have fun in college, this shirt is just about partying.” Then I asked people in sexual violence circles and they had a different response – that it was promoting rape culture.

Screengrab of some Party with Consent gear. (

Screengrab of some Party with Consent gear. (

So, I thought, what if we created this tank as amplifying something positive. Those shirts (with “Party With Consent” on the front) were made. I didn’t think it would end up being much more than that. That was four years and three months ago. Since then, it’s been a product of doing different work and getting positive press.

Overwhelmingly, there was just so more demand and desire for more shirts. At Colby they sort of made this initial splash because we were teamed up with Male Athletes Against Violence – not a frat trying to get better PR. It was representing a sort of a bigger symbol of the frame of changing our culture. From there, students would go home wearing their tank top and meet friends from high school, and they would say, “We need something like that at our school.” That’s how I started traveling and before I got press – the organic response from students as they were going home on break from school.

NBP: What got you interested in working in advocacy for consent-related issues?

Kalin: Well, the deeper story about it I only learned in reverse. I didn’t realize it why I was doing that. Why do I only care about this, and a handful of my peers care about this. I look back to when I was 12 – my dad died in a car accident suddenly. I was an only child so I grew up with my mom.

I realized in a way that I had to figure out masculinity and how masculinity works on my own. I always had this incredible subconscious respect for women because of my mom’s example and simultaneously with my dad dying, a desire to protect. Subconsciously, there were some lessons being learned even if I didn’t realize it.

And as a freshman in college, a girl revealed to me that she was sexually assaulted – the statistics came to life and I became obsessed with how something like that could happen. It wasn’t totally rocket science. Then when the Male Athletes Against Violence group happened I thought, I am a male athlete against violence so I’m going to go to this meeting.

NBP: How do you think we go to this point? What are some of the core issues you see as perpetuating this non-consensual hookup culture?

Kalin: My generation is behind some of the sexual liberation and women’s rights movements and a lot of that has left us confused on some of that, particularly with gender and sex. 

There’s a new form of education happening around pornography and all this media – what this new sexism looks like. There’s more mutual conversation and talk about domestic violence coming to table and equality in workplace. There’s still a lot of unhealthy ideas around male dominance perpetuated.

The majority of what we work with is considering what the men’s role is in all of this. With that in mind we have to be serious in considering what men are doing. It’s not totally informed. Ninety-five to 99 percent of sexual assault is perpetrated by men. The onus for me is presenting information to people and identify who the 95-99 percent are. Party with Consent is trying to prompt that discussion and what they mean in regard to sex.

My goal isn’t to define consent. People call me a consent educator – that comes with the assumption that students haven’t learned what consent is. I don’t think that’s true. It’s starting in middle school – you learn it from joking around with friends, pornography, or movies that hint at it. My goal isn’t to say, “This is what consent is, and what it looks like every time.” It’s to say, “These are the things that are happening around you.” And 70 percent of survivors of sexual assault don’t disclose (their assault), and they go unreported. I tell people to speak openly and authentically with your partners.

People will say, “You’re a consent educator,” and I’ll say, “I’m really an unhealthy consent educator.”

NBP: In some ways, this seems very counter-cultural. Why do you think this message is taking off?

KALIN: If you go and tell students that this is what consent looks like, it will fall on deaf ears because it’s so opposite of what they’re seeing and engaged with. The goal is to think, what are the measures and ways that students are getting this information.

I feel as a peer that my overall goal with Party with Consent is that it’s not a separation where you engage and learn about sex, it’s actually going to address (consent). How can you take those negative forms like the (original Party with Sluts) tank top and perpetuate those into positive ideas.

NBP: So what does the work specifically look like, and what’s next for you?

KALIN: The first year out of school, we tried to replicate this student grassroots effort chapter on campus and realized we were not prepared that. Then we basically just said, here’s the branding, do what you think is right. That was a strategy that wasn’t that productive. This year, we shut that effort down and want to re-envision.

This time of year, I’m doing a lot of traveling around campuses. At the moment, we’re reactive. Our goal is to fit a need when we go to schools.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis