The student government at East Tennessee State University voted Tuesday against providing funding for a student group that wanted to organize a "Sex Week" event on campus, with student leaders going so far as to call the proposed events "dangerous" because of potential backlash from conservative lawmakers.
With 23 students in favor and one opposing, the ETSU student government overwhelmingly voted against providing the nearly $10,000 in student fee funding requested by the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a pro-abortion rights student group, to cover costs for a Sex Week on campus in February. Student senators told The Huffington Post that they were worried the sex education events for adult students would prove too risqué.
"When they started organizing this at ETSU, we were very concerned about it," Brandon Johnson, a junior and student senator at the university, said. "We are all for sexual education -- we made a very proud stance on that, everyone should be informed about it. Unfortunately, the 'Sex Week' banner has such a negative name associated with that."
Conservative lawmakers and blogs reacted with outrage when the University of Tennessee-Knoxville held its own campus "Sex Weeks" in 2013 and 2014, though the university told HuffPost it did not receive a single phone call voicing objection to the events. The UT administration stood firm behind the students' right to free speech, repeatedly noting that money for the events was coming from student fees, not tax dollars. There were no campus protests either year the events were held.
Still, Tennessee legislators passed resolutions condemning the Sex Weeks, and pressured the UT system to overhaul its student fee allocations -- fees collected separately from tuition and separate from tax dollars.
Johnson said he made a phone call to controversial and outgoing state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) about the potential campus event, and concluded that if the student senate funded the Sex Week, the university would "get our hand slapped by legislature." However, he noted, the ETSU Sex Week was expected to be tamer than recent similar events at other colleges, with the most "raunchy" event being what he understood to be "almost like a Tupperware party for sex toys."
Max Carwile, the lead student coordinator for Sex Week at ETSU and the president of the campus FMLA group, was disappointed that the student senate didn't stick up for the sex ed events.
"Right now I'm just shocked and hurt that our senators we elected to represent us are putting politics before the health and education of the students," Carwile said. "A very strong message has been sent to the students by their government tonight, and that message is that issues like sexual assault and HIV prevention are not a priority. At all."
ETSU's student body president, Doretha Benn, was previously on the record supporting the Sex Week.
"We're all adults here," Benn told WJHL in August. "We're all in college and we know that people are going to have sex so we might as well educate them on how to be healthy about it so no sexually transmitted diseases come into play, no unplanned pregnancies, rape, or sexual misconduct just to mark those out."
But the ETSU student government didn't just vote down funding for the event, it also brought forward a resolution to urge all campus groups to not participate in the Sex Week if there was one. Johnson was the lead sponsor of that bill, which stated that "Sex Week is dangerous to the shared governance system that is currently established at our university."
Anything taking place under the name Sex Week would bring controversy to the university, Johnson said, floating possible alternatives.
"Maybe we could spread it out; instead of a week it's a month long," Johnson said. "We could file it under a different banner and have the same goal, but do it a more professional manner."
Carwile vowed that Sex Week would still take place at ETSU with money raised through Crowdrise, an online platform for donations.
"This is upsetting, but not the end," Carwile said. "This is only the beginning."