The Daily Pulse:

UT's Sex Week Is Coming Back--Along With Yet More Legislative Condemnation

Surely you remember the University of Tennessee's Sex Week of 2013, don't you? Last March, it caused Sen. Stacey Campfield to want to un-pass UT's budget, leading the administration to de-fund the student event of $11,145 in state money ($6,700 in student activity fees remained). But organizer/Haslam Scholar Brianna Rader was able to pull it off anyway despite the state's resistance. 

And now it's back--scheduled for March 2-7. Predictably, Republican legislators are not happy about that--inspiring Rep. Richard Floyd of the 27th District to sponsor House Joint Resolution 661 to voice lawmakers' "distress" and to condemn UT for simply allowing Sex Week to even exist:

"...this Body hereby condemns the administration of the University of Tennessee and expresses its displeasure with the University for permitting 'Sex Week' to be held on the UT-Knoxville campus for a second consecutive year."

However, this year, UT President Joe DiPietro issued a statement that seems to be at least more nuanced than the sudden monetary plug-pulling of last year:

"Upholding the First Amendment right for the free and open exchange of views and speech on our campuses is a tenet we must continue to support. The First Amendment requires the University to be viewpoint neutral with respect to student programs held on campus and with respect to programs funded by the student activity fee."

Meanwhile, Sex Week organizers Rader and Jacob Clark have issued their response to Floyd's condemnation, here in full:

The Tennessee state legislature has proposed "a resolution condemning the administration of the University of Tennessee for permitting "Sex Week" to be held on the UT-Knoxville campus." In summary, the resolution expresses official "distress" over the "atrocious" program called Sex Week, which, according to the proposed resolution, "fits nowhere within the mission of the University of Tennessee, nor should it ever."

On behalf of Sex Week, our student organization SEAT, and our supporters, we would like to express disappointment in the state legislature's proposal and would like to offer an alternative perspective. There are facts that we cannot ignore. In the state of Tennessee, by the age of 22, over nine out of ten individuals are sexually active. While we make no effort to disrespect that some have made the decision to remain abstinent until marriage, we recognize that most have not made this decision. Because we live in an abstinence-until-marriage education state, most students arrive at The University of Tennessee with insufficient knowledge to make healthy sexual decisions. Tennessee has some of the worst stats in the country for sexual assault, STIs, and unwanted pregnancies. SEAT and Sex Week are working to correct a disparity in sex education on campus. While the state legislature is "distressed" about Sex Week, we are as equally distressed about the poor state of sexual health in Tennessee.

We are committed to comprehensive sex education. Comprehensive sex education requires in-depth discussions about different sexual choices and the associated physical and mental health repercussions. This exchange of knowledge must occur in a sex-positive manner, meaning we regard all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and embrace sexuality as primary to the human experience. This must include a conversation about pleasure because that's a part of sexual health. Holistic sexual health has to be a respectful and positive approach to sex--inclusive of pleasure and safe practices and free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. Sex Week is not atrocious; we have a mission that serves an undeniable public health need. The University of Tennessee, similarly to many of the nation's universities, suffers from a sexual culture fraught with stigmatization resulting in dangerous silence on health issues, severe sexual and gender oppression, and violence. While we understand that our titles and marketing devices, openness, and audacity may be discomforting, we are far from atrocious.  

We choose to give the benefit of the doubt to our state legislators and believe they have the capacity and compassion to understand the importance and need for comprehensive and positive sex education. It appears to us that the motivation behind this resolution is related more closely to politics and power than substantive reasoning or values. Sex Week was built and is reevaluated regularly to contribute to the mission of The University of Tennessee. Like the university at large, we wish to "move forward the frontiers of human knowledge and enrich and elevate the citizens of the state of Tennessee, the nation, and the world." Furthermore, a university is meant to function as a marketplace of ideas, where thoughtful discussions can occur, and that includes important topics like sex and sexuality. 

The resolution claims Sex Week "is an outrageous misuse of monies." Sex Week costs less than .15% of all student fees collected at UTK. Does preventing sexual assaults, unwanted pregnancies, and STIs not deserve .15% of student fees? We're sorry to be the ones to have to inform the legislators of this, but your children, your neighbors' children, the college students of Tennessee are having sex. Someone has to stand up for their health, and Sex Week is willing to do so. 

Unfortunately, the state is putting Sex Week and the university in a vulnerable position because of threats to cut the university's budget. Sex education and conversations about sexuality are important on college campuses, and the state representatives must realize the need for this type of programming. ​We ask our supporters to please express your disappointment with the state legislators--call them, email them, write statements. If you do not, then Sex Week will suffer, the university will suffer, and the health of Tennesseans will suffer. 

Brianna Rader & Jacob Clark
Co-Founders of SEAT and Sex Week
Seniors in College Scholars

Stay tuned for more, we're sure...

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