Sarah Kinsella is in many ways the kind of young Renaissance woman that a university admissions committee jumps at — an aspiring doctor who will be heading to medical school at Georgetown in the fall, but also a musician and someone deeply involved with both church and family.
And it takes only a few minutes in her company to get a sense of how her unself-conscious Midwestern friendliness works as a leavening agent for the intensity of Harvard.
But there’s no denying her most distinctive claim to fame on campus at this point. She is one of the founders of True Love Revolution, a nonsectarian Harvard group dedicated to the promotion of sexual abstinence before marriage.
“It’s a subject that isn’t talked about enough,” she says matter-of-factly. “Most people don’t give abstinence serious attention. We’re trying to balance out the campus discussion on sex and relationships and give support for people making the choice to wait.”
This is True Love Revolution’s first year as a student group; it was recognized officially in November 2006 and since that time has hosted a couple of large, campuswide events — an ice cream social for Valentine’s Day, and in April, a discussion on “Living in a Hookup Culture.” She estimates the discussion drew about 65 people, roughly half supporters of their point of view and the other half challengers and critics.
“We’ve been getting our message out there, through poster and e-mail campaigns,” Kinsella says. “We have the luxury of being here at Harvard, where people pay more attention to what we say. And so fortunately, we’ve been able to really share these ideas.”
The ideas include the concept that abstinence can lead to both “happiness and fulfillment” in relationships, she says.
True Love Revolution has drawn national and international press coverage, including from CNN as well as Fox News (“Twice!” Kinsella says). An Associated Press story drew several hundred messages, many, perhaps predictably, from parents lauding the campaign as a good idea. But it also drew messages from students at other colleges and Harvard graduates who said they were glad to know about the campaign and wished there had been something like it when they were on campus.
“In addition to supporters and critics, we’ve also had questions from people who are simply curious: You’re choosing to wait? Is that actually possible?”
Her own grounds for abstinence are rooted largely in her faith as a Catholic. “But it’s definitely a health issue, too” she says. “It’s a foolproof way to avoid STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] and pregnancy. And there are mental health issues as well.”
The abstinence commitment can improve communication between couples, she suggests. Even today, sex can be an awkward topic, and so a couple who can talk about sex enough to say they want to wait may be “ahead of the game,” she suggests.
“If the focus is on the physical, there can be less of a focus on getting to know a person for everything they are, learning about their goals and dreams and passions — what really makes them come alive.” People who get into a sexual relationship before marriage may also find themselves blinded to someone’s faults or incompatibilities in the relationship, she adds.
She sees abstinence, or “waiting for marriage” as “a choice that people can make to respect themselves, their partner, and their future spouse.” It is a way of learning “to love others by wanting what’s truly best for them.
“This is an empowering message.”
Kinsella founded True Love Revolution with Justin Murray, whom she’s been dating for some time, and reports, “It’s been great for my relationship with Justin — it’s taught us a lot about cooperation and teamwork.”
Her House master at Winthrop, Stephen Rosen, describes her thus:
“Sarah is a born leader and a wonderful person. She makes a difference to people around her and to the causes she supports through her unwavering commitment.”
Her other campus activities include a role on the Steering Committee of the Catholic Student Association, four-year membership in Harvard’s premier mixed-voice choir, the Collegium Musicum, and participation in Harvard’s chapter of Delta Gamma, a national sorority that fosters the ideals of community service and sisterhood.
“I know that I’ve been very lucky — very blessed. And I want to give that back. I want to translate those blessings into positive change in the world,” she says, explaining how her faith and medical aspirations fit together.
“I applied to Harvard on a whim,” she says, “but when I came to visit, it felt like the right place.” It’s been a transition for her, she acknowledges. “It’s not the most social campus. Everyone is so busy. And I’m a very social person. But in the long run, it’s been totally worth it. I’ve really grown as a person and have met some wonderful friends in the process.”
She is also close to her family. “My siblings are some of my best friends.” She has four — an older brother and a younger brother and two younger sisters. Then there are cousins — dozens of cousins, 39 to be exact.
She is a native of Wheaton, Ill., outside Chicago. Her father is a health care consultant. Her mother has a background in computer science but has been a homemaker while the children were growing up.
“They were excited for me,” she says of her family’s response to her getting into Harvard. “They didn’t want me to pass up the opportunity.”
Her next stop after graduation: a three-and-a-half-week tour of Australia with the Collegium Musicum.