Earlier this month, I wrote about the latest attack on sex - specifically, the concerns that Margaret Brooks, a Bridgewater State economics professor, has about Sex Weeks on college campuses. While the hysteria is unnecessary (but sadly unsurprising), her op-ed was published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, an influential academic journal. In the piece, Brooks spins a decades-old, nationally celebrated sexuality education event series for university students (aka adults) into a thinly-veiled "think of the children!" outcry.
"It is clear," Brooks 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.
Though Brooks appeared to be concerned for students' and colleges' reputations, she offers no voice for the student organizers of these events or their faculty supporters (and hints at no discussion with them either). In an effort to present their voices, I reached out to sex educators, college student groups, and faculty members from various universities. Every educator and group contacted was frustrated by Brooks' mischaracterization of their events and their work. Many of them were outraged that the individual leading the charge against sex-themed programming was an economics professor with no experience in sexuality education. We decided to respond and together composed a Letter to the Editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. It was 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 (or those like the ones held during Sex Week) occur unbeknownst to staff and faculty, while failing to remark on her own correspondence with administrators at Brown University, who informed her that they would not shut down the student-organized events, such as KinkForAll Providence or Get Your Heart On: Sex Educator Showdown; they thoroughly investigated her concerns and deemed the programming within bounds of organized student activities*. 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 presents 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
**Editorial Note: September 30, 2010 For clarification, the sentence was amended to include the specific events that Brooks took issue with.
When we sent our letter to The Chronicle two weeks ago, it had 16 signatories. As Brooks' irrational (and greatly inaccurate) outcry was picked up by more news outlets, including The Washington Post, many more of our colleagues signed on in support. Unfortunately, we have yet to hear any response from The Chronicle.
That being said, there is another lesson in this. If there was ever any doubt, let us recognize that not only is sexuality education a legitimate and necessary profession, but it is one with a large network of allies across many disciplines. Our work is not trivial.
Perhaps if our society at large dealt with sexuality in a healthy, non-judgmental, and non-hysterical way, Sex Weeks would become passé. However, it is clear that that time has not yet come. Until then, sex educators will continue to work towards creating a sexually healthy nation. This nation will be comprised of people who are tolerant of diversity, capable of making informed choices, have access to correct information and reproductive health services, feel good about themselves and their bodies, recognize that we are sexual beings for our entire lives, and are respectful of any and all consensual choices that individuals make.
I, for one, am committed to doing this. For as long as it takes.
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