Sep 292010
 

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post about the multiple attacks against sex ed on college campus and the absolutely ridiculous hysteria driven by the so called “concerns” of economics professor Margaret Brooks (please note that she has absolutely no connection to sex ed of any sort). The Chronicle of Higher Education published an op-ed piece earlier, a piece that had no place in an influential academic journal. In this piece, Brooks sullies the concept of a decades-old, nationally celebrated sexuality education event series for university students (please keep in mind these students are almost all over 18, and are considered adults in our culture) called Sex Week. Instead, she rekindles the “think of the children!” outcry, causing unfounded drama and concern for the future of sex education on college and university campuses.

It is clear, she writes, that many people and organizations claim to be experts in the field of sex education and are eager to gain access to the hearts, minds, and yes, perhaps even the bodies of our college students. Strong measures are needed to preserve students’ sexual health and safety, as well as colleges’ integrity and reputations. Um. What? Really? I obviously spent two full years of graduate school, as well as tens of thousands of dollars for education, and hundreds of hours of pro bono work solely for the purpose of getting into the minds of college students. Please note the dripping sarcasm.

With the help of Logan Levkoff, a large group of sexuality educations, university faculty/staff and college/university students on Sex Week planning committeescomposed a Letter to the Editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, and sent it to the editors on September 16th.

Dear Chronicle Editors,

We were deeply disappointed by your recent publication of economics Professor Margaret Brooks’ op-ed, “‘Sex Week’ Should Arouse Caution Most of All.” It is clear that Margaret Brooks has not only misrepresented herself, but also seeks to discount over 40 years of legal precedent upholding student rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The policies she calls for attack academic freedom itself, representing a clear return to the pre-1960’s-era doctrine of in loco parentis. Moreover, her suggestion to use far-fetched “sexual harassment liability” as a stick to force implementation of her proposed policies is nothing short of outrageous.

In her article, Brooks displays willful ignorance or calculated deception by omitting important information related to Sex Week events, making the article little more than fear- and shame-based grandstanding. She writes that Sex Week events occur unbeknownst to staff and faculty, while failing to remark on her own correspondence with administrators at Brown University, who informed her of their approval of Sex Week after investigating her concerns. Brooks’ suggestion that the sole purpose of Sex Week events are to sell sex toys and pornography is incorrect and irresponsible. Readers need merely look at the schedules from various Sex Weeks to see that topics covered have included sex & disability, religious perspectives on sexuality, communication, transgender issues, critical evaluation of sexuality as portrayed in pop culture and pornography, healing from sexual assault, safer sex, and yes, even topics such as traditional families and abstinence.

When Brooks complains about a “lack of balance,” what she’s really taking issue with is a necessary attempt to restore balance to sex education for young adults, after the many years of abstinence-only education most of them have received during their younger years. While the purpose of an opinion piece is to present one particular perspective, given the flaws in Brooks’ argument, as well as her lack of credentials in the field of human sexuality, it is imprudent not to present an alternative perspective. Instead of offering a valuable contribution to the much-needed academic discourse on sex education, The Chronicle betrays an anti-sex education bias unbecoming of a publication of record in higher education.

We, the undersigned, believe sexuality is a key component in literature, history, politics, religion, and popular culture—each of which are topics integral to the activities that Sex Week and similar programs bring to college campuses. Perhaps some people don’t think these are appropriate subjects for college students (most of whom are legally adults) to discuss in an intellectual setting, such as a college or university. That’s their prerogative. However, to suggest as Brooks does that these topics are unsuitable in and of themselves, that their mere mention warrants sexual harassment lawsuits, or that students be barred from exploration of such topics in pursuit of their own education, is nothing short of an attack on the fundamental principles of higher education and should have been seen as such by the editors of The Chronicle.

Sincerely,
-The Undersigned

  • Charlie Glickman, PhD
  • Megan Andelloux, AASECT, ACS
  • Logan Levkoff, M.S., Ph.D., AASECT
  • Shanna Katz, M.Ed, AASECT
  • Dr. Katherine Frank, Professor of Anthropology, College of the Atlantic
  • Charles Moser, Ph.D., MD, FACP, Professor and Chair of the Department of Sexual Medicine, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, in San Francisco, CA
  • Dr. Staci Newmahr, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Buffalo State College
  • Jennifer Giang, ASUCD Gender and Sexuality Commission, University of California, Davis
  • Caitlin Alday, ASUCD Gender & Sexualities Commission Chair, University of California, Davis
  • Laura Mitchell, Gender and Sexuality Commission, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, University of California, Davis
  • Jason Hans, Ph.D., CFLE, Associate Professor, University of Kentucky
  • Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Georgia State University
  • Aida Manduley, Brown University Class of 2011, Sex Week Coordinator and Chairperson for the Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council
  • Caroline McKenzie, Ph.D. student, Women’s Studies, Purdue University
  • Dr. DJ Williams, Leisure Sciences
  • Elizabeth Anne Wood, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, Nassau Community College
  • Scott Elman, President of the Student Health Advisory Committee, Washington University in St. Louis

This letter had 16 signatories when it was sent out, which was almost TWO WEEKS ago at this point. In the world of online news and publication, that could be seen as eons. So far, we have heard neither hide nor hair of the Chronicle, and certainly no indication that they have any intentions of publishing this letter, or recanting their publications of Brooks’ inflammatory piece. One might say that rather then facing the facts, the Chronicle has chosen the cowardly route, and has chosen to maintain silence rather than address such an important educational conversation and issue.

Ergo, we have decided to publish the letter. I (Shanna) would like to ask you to do the same. I think it is incredibly important that people realize not only the importance of sexuality education on college and university campuses, but also see how much damage a person with NO sexual education experience can do when allowed to spout forth her antiquated, misogynistic and often time complete inaccurate verbage. I say shame on the Chronicle for allowing such to be published, and it is beyond high time we reclaim and support sexuality education for the amazing and much needed facet of education that it is.

Shanna

Dr. Logan Levkoff is a a writer for the Huffington Post, and has posted this letter, with her own comments, on there as well.

Sep 042010
 

There are a number of articles out there now that are discussing how “awful” college sex weeks are, how sex education is “infecting” college campuses, how Yale giving out 14,000 condoms is a travesty. I’m not going to do them the service of linking to these ridiculous articles, as some of them take some pot shots at other sex educators, at student groups putting on sexuality education workshop, etc. However, in my humble opinion, most of these articles are poorly researched and full of hooey.

Now, it’s true. I am a sex educator, more particularly, a sex educator who presents on college campuses, so defending sex education at colleges and universities is obviously in my best interest. So let it be said that you should take what I say with a grain of salt.

However, I chose this field because it is incredibly important. In 2003, I met an 18 year old college student who had never learned how to use a condom, despite 6 of her friends from high school having had children. In 2007, I met college students who told me that the withdrawal method “must work” because they’d used it for a year and never gotten pregnant (despite some of their cohorts leaving school/take a leave of absence due to their pregnancies). I’ve met numerous students who didn’t know how to balance their identities, many of which they hadn’t taken pride in until they got to college. I’ve met dozens of depressed students who were scared to come out to their roommates/college friends/hall mates/RAs/professors because of the overall view of LGBTQ identities on campus. All of these people were helped in some way by sexuality education, whether it was through me, through a school sponsored event, through a school group providing sex ed.

Sex education is helpful to people of all ages, but is crucial to people in their teens and early twenties, when they are developing their identities, making decisions about sexual activity. Getting sex education does NOT encourage anyone to be sexually active. In fact, many people who get comprehensive sexuality education in high school and middle school have better self image, are more comfortable in setting boundaries, know ow to say know, choose not to be sexually active as early, and/or choose not to be sexually active while under the influence of other substances. Almost everyone will have the ability to make healthier choices regarding safer sex, pregnancy prevention, and more.

Most sex weeks (as well as other sexuality education workshop) on college and university campuses are put together by students. Student who want information about sexuality; about anatomy, about identity, about safer sex, about pleasure, about communication, about relationships, and more. Clearly, there is a need for this education, because if it doesn’t come from sexuality educators, it comes from word of mouth (which can often provide incorrect information), or from the internet, or from trial and error. They are going to get this information from somewhere — I’d rather they get it from a trained sexuality educator (whether myself or someone else) who is trained in correct information, in counseling students, in talking about such a fraught topic, etc.

For the most part, sexuality education supports all choices, including abstinence as a choice. I know that all of my classes welcome people of all genders, orientations, backgrounds, etc, regardless of whether students are sexually active. I’m sorry, but given that about 99.9% of society features on the mainstream and the majority (white, straight/heterosexual, cisgender, traditionally able bodied, vanilla relationships), I feel it is completely valid for colleges and universities to bring in classes that talk about sexual minorities, as well as other workshops (like intersecting identities and relationship communication discussions) that appeal to people of ALL identities. Very few students need to know what sexuality looks like for a traditionally able bodied person; how many have been asked to think about people with disabilities, and how their sexuality looks and occurs, and how to make all of their campus accessible, more than just physically.

Denying that college age students are thinking about their sexuality (whether or not they are sexually active) is like an ostrich sticking its head in its the sand. Let’s please support them in their desire for knowledge and to learn more about their sexual identities, and how to make healthy choices, rather than just pretend that its not happening. And let’s also not throw negativity at the schools that are in fact fulfilling their promise to support students’ ENTIRE education, and at the educators who are helping these knowledge hungry students to learn more about themselves. It’s just rude.

That’s what I’ve got to say on this issue.

However, Dr. Charlie Glickman, a respected sex educator, also has something to say about this, more specifically about Margaret Brooks’ anti Brown Sex Week article (in interest of full disclosure, I spoke at Brown’s Sex Week, including on Sexuality and Disability, and on Relationships and Communication). His post is much less based on emotional than mine, and takes on her article bit by bit. I highly suggest reading it.

For anyone still interesting in bringing sexuality education to their campus, I’m still booking for 2010-2011. I’d love to come help college students learn and grow.

Shanna