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Newark Life

Natalie Walton

May 19, 2021 11:31AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Betsy Brewer Brantner
Contributing writer

By the time Natalie Walton graduated from the University of Delaware, she had not only written and published a book, she was also named a Truman Scholar, a highly competitive national award.

Walton, of Newark, Del., was one of 62 scholars selected nationwide as a Truman Scholar, with the selection based on a student’s record of leadership, public service and academic achievement. The Truman Scholar honor was created to support the next generation of public service leaders as they pursue graduate studies.

Twenty-three-year-old Natalie Walton admits that when she tells people she is passionate about teaching sex education, eyebrows might raise.

“Yes, sometimes it stops the conversation when I tell people I am an advocate for teaching sex education, but I’m not uncomfortable talking about sex anymore. I have always been interested in education in general and I think all people should have access to education no matter what subject,” Walton said.

Walton will attend grad school at the University of Greenwich in London in the fall and her focus will be on criminology, gender and sexuality. It is a relatively new field, she said.

There’s no denying that “Revenge of The Sluts” is a very catchy title for a book, but more notable is the fact that this book was written by a woman who is very accomplished at a young age.

She wrote her first story in second grade. Then she started posting her stories on Wattpad at the age of fourteen. For those not familiar with Wattpad, it is a website and app for writers to publish new user-generated stories. It aims to create social communities around stories for both amateur and established writers.

The Delaware resident is not afraid of subjects that are thought of as taboo. She believes strongly in sex education, is interested in gender studies, and is an advocate for those who have suffered from sexual assault. She is beacon of hope in a world that, not that long ago, debated whether sex education should even be taught in schools.

“It feels like a mistreatment of people to create a barrier to sex education,” Walton explained. “It gives you access to healthy relationships. When I was a young adult, I didn’t feel I had any one to ask questions of. People either wanted to joke about it, or simply said, ‘I’ll tell you when you are older.’ I don’t like the idea of gate-keeping knowledge. We teach children about everything else in their body, why not sex education?”

She continued, “We are making slow strides in teaching sex education. People are trying to teach, but we need to say here are the resources. Here is where you can find the answers to the questions you have. And we need to be judgement-free. We don’t need to make people feel they are wrong for asking questions. We are starting to make serious progress, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Walton admitted that she thinks it is a different issue between boys and girls. “What we have in place doesn’t work,” she said. “Sex is focused on the male anatomy and not the female anatomy. Every person I’ve talked to had to learn it on their own. Why are we hiding information relative to our sexual health?”

Walton emphasized the importance of telling young people how to have healthy relationships.

“They need to know what consent is, and what sexual harassment is,” she said. “Understanding what it means to be kind to your partner is vital, as is teaching them about personal space. I just think it is ridiculous that we are still arguing over teaching sexual education. Teens are scared about pregnancy and sexual diseases and it is important that they can talk about these fears and get accurate information. We really need to talk to teenagers like real people. If we don’t have the answers, find the answer or tell them who they can talk to.”

She added, “The core foundation of why I do this and want to teach is it comes down to the option of choice. If you don’t have the resources, you can’t make a good decision. It’s important to give information up front. We need to make our teens safer. Teens need to make decisions for themselves and giving them the space to say what they feel is a great beginning. It is a complicated and nuanced issue, but talking is such a good starting point. The most important thing is you should make teens, and everyone comfortable about asking questions. How do we learn anything without asking questions?”

The subject of the LGBTQ community is another issue that needs to be talked about. Walton said things would not be so scary if people could simply ask questions and talk freely.

“Joking about something we don’t understand doesn’t help anyone. Talking about it takes the mystery and misconceptions away,” she said. “The bottom line is we should never stop learning about anything. Life is constantly evolving. How we talked about the LGBTQ community years ago is not relevant now. We need to update our language. Generations change and language that seemed appropriate years ago, may be insensitive and inaccurate now. And it’s not just teens, parents need to be able to ask questions to. Parents are constantly trying to catch up.”

The most important take away is that education never stops, Walton stressed it is just one more opportunity to connect with your teen. The best method is to approach everything with an open mind.

“I don’t get embarrassed talking about sex, but I do understand it can be embarrassing for others. But we all have a common goal, to create happier generations of people,” Walton said.

Rebecca Dowling, owner of the Hockessin Bookshelf, an independent book store in Hockessin, Del., was excited to have Walton’s debut at her store. Having Walton sign her first batch of books in her store was one of her greatest pleasures, she said.

Independent bookstores are a unique gem in a community. They are part of the community, working with other local businesses, contributing to local events and causes and always watching for the next local author to break out.

Dowling was proud of Walton because she was a local author, and also because of the courage it took to write about her chosen topic.

“Revenge of the Sluts” deals with privacy and relationships in the digital age. It’s something that teen book sellers are searching for. It’s a timely topic which needs to be dealt with head on. This book evolves after intimate pictures of seven female students are anonymously emailed to the entire school. The high school newspaper journalist takes an interest in finding out who the perpetrator is, and when she join forces with the female students, the “Revenge of the Sluts” is on,” Dowling said.

Dowling came to know Walton when she was ordering a publisher catalog, which highlights authors from Delaware. She was looking for a young adult book and found the perfect one—and a timely one.

“We love to promote local authors when they get a national publishing contract through Watt Pad. (Macmillan Press is the sales and distribution partner for Wattpad Books in the United States.) Sales have been good and the first printing is already sold out. It’s good news for the author when it goes to reprint,” Dowling said.

To have a successful bookstore, the owner has to keep up with readers, and Dowling knew what direction the country was going. Women were on the precipice of a new movement, and were demanding that their voices be heard.

The climate surrounding sexual exploitation of women was already changing in this country, and then the “Me Too” movement began to take hold. In 2006, Taranda Burke began using the phrase “Me Too” to raise awareness of women who had been abused. It took eleven years to find global recognition, which came after a viral tweet by actress Alyssa Milano, who accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. The rest is history and sets the stage for young Natalie Walton. Her book embodies the very essence of that movement, written from the high school perspective. That perspective is vital to be able to arm young woman against the perils of growing up safely in a digital age.

Walton clearly has chosen public service and advocacy as her future endeavors. She is particularly passionate about policies to make sex education more comprehensive and more widely available to young people and about supporting victims of sexual assault.

She has volunteered and worked with Planned Parenthood’s Sex Education Training Institute in Delaware and she founded the University of Delaware chapter of “It’s On Us” in 2017, plus a host of other jobs including tutoring and serving in many other capacities as an advocate.

So when Walton was chosen as a Truman Scholar and received a $30,000 scholarship, it

enabled her to continue pursuing her dream of educating and advocating.

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Truman, with a mission to select and support the next generation of public service leaders.

In 2019, there were 840 candidates for the award nominated by 346 colleges and universities, a record number of both applications and institutions. The 199 finalists were interviewed in March and early April, and 62 new Truman Scholars were selected. They received their awards in a ceremony at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum on May 26 and Walton was among them.

Truman Scholars receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming to help prepare them for leadership careers in public service.

Walton has now graduated and, as a Truman Scholar, she received a scholarship for graduate school to pursue a doctorate in sociology with a concentration in sexuality and gender studies.

The success of her book, “Revenge of the Sluts” is not just a success for her, but also for other young women in the future who will be the arbiters of their own success. With one book, and a desire to educate and advocate, Walton will change the future of many women, educate the world, and give hope to the next generation.

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