Students with borders: Setting boundaries with UConn Health & Wellness 


UConn Health & Wellness’ Sexuality Series is an ongoing series of interactive panels and presentations designed to educate students about various sexual topics and introduce conversations concerning topics that simply are not often openly discussed. Past topics that have been covered include LGBTQIA+ health literacy and the gender spectrum. Last night, the Series presented a panel surrounding the subject of setting boundaries. 

The evening’s presentation was given by Sarah Malhotra, director of education and training at the rowan center in the UConn Stamford campus, in collaboration with Joleen M. Nevers, director of regional wellness for all UConn regional campuses. While one (including myself) may assume that the panel would focus specifically on setting sexual boundaries, the talk expanded the topic to setting boundaries in all aspects of students’ lives.  

Malhotra and Nevers opened the panel by giving students a chance to introduce themselves but only if they wanted to. This gave students a choice in how much they would like to participate in the following discussion. Throughout the rest of the presentation, they continued to emphasize that students should only share what they felt comfortable with talking about. It was only after the panel had concluded that I realized Malhotra and Nevers were allowing students to set their own boundaries for the evening, putting into practice the principles they introduced.  

Following student and facilitator introductions, Malhotra and Nevers described three different types of boundaries: rigid, permeable and semi-permeable. Rigid boundaries are set in stone by an individual and serve as unflinching principles they abide by regarding others. By contrast, people with permeable boundaries are generally much more open. Semi-permeable boundaries, like their name suggests, are flexible depending on specifics. It was made clear that the same person can have different types of boundaries put in place depending on the topic at hand and that an individual’s boundary types can change over time. 

Rather than a lecture, the night’s event was treated more like a mutual conversation between students and the facilitators. Students shared what, if anything, they had learned about setting boundaries in the past and what challenges they have experienced when attempting to put boundaries into place. A common response shared among many was that they were worried about disappointing another person. This can be especially difficult when that person is a family member, an authority figure or just someone older. 

Both students and facilitators were given the chance to anonymously define what boundaries they would like to put in place for a wide variety of figures in their lives. They discussed boundaries regarding siblings, parents, acquaintances, professors, coworkers, partners, members of law enforcement and more. This created a welcoming environment where students could relate to each other and learn that boundaries they may have been afraid to lay down may not actually be unreasonable at all.  

Setting boundaries is often difficult, but from generation to generation, the trend looks positive. More people are properly learning about boundaries beyond the basic, “keep your hands to yourself” rule that is taught to everyone. The night’s discussion helped to further that trend. By teaching about boundary types and giving students an open space to discuss, Malhotra and Nevers presented a successful panel that struck a chord with many. 

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