On August 7, Lauren Spires from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury received national recognition for her special report on Sex Week at the University of Tennessee.
If you checked your UT email last year, you’ll recall former Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis’s email on the hearing where the report was presented. Maybe you remember interim President Randy Boyd stating the University does not support Sex Week and does not condone “salacious, inappropriate programming” when he spoke at the hearing.
The special report is 269 pages long, contains three reader advisory warnings for sexual language and resulted in no criminal charges. It includes 14 suggestions at the end, one of which was to simply “ignore it.” The most drastic suggestion was to explicitly ban Sex Week from taking place, which was advised against, as this would be unconstitutional.
Later, the Office of the Comptroller could not accurately state the cost of the report nor the hours of labor it took to put it together.
The official response to the report by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), authored by fellow former co-chair Cole Tipton and myself, can be found on any of our social media.
It’s worth noting that a “key conclusion” from the report was that “SEAT has been unwilling to compromise with university administrators who have asked it annually to ‘tone it down.’” This phrase, “tone it down,” does not denote actual instructions or guidelines.
When my co-chair and I were asked to “tone it down” last year, and I can only speak for our year of leadership, we asked for a list or some sort of written guidelines for our language and content. We did not receive any, nor any further instruction beyond “tone it down.”
While our state representatives, with the consent of our university system administrators, continue to become annually outraged at college students in a programming student organization and the sexual language their programming will inherently contain, here is where our outrage lies: the most up-to-date piece of legislation on sex education in Tennessee public schools refers to our mandated abstinence-only education—one of the strictest in the country—as “family life” education or curriculum.
The word “consent” appears just once—to say that students should be made aware of the age of consent in this state. The word “sex” only appears once, too.
In order to educate students about sexual assault and consent, you would need to talk about a sexual act, which is forbidden under this legislation.
I can’t help but wonder what our ever-growing campus sexual assault statistics might look like if this state-sponsored shame and stigma of talking about sex was removed from our public schools and students could have discussions on consent.
Recognizing this gap in knowledge, SEAT is proud to be the first organization on this campus to provide RedZone programming—bringing awareness to the period of the year when the most sexual assaults on campus occur. During this period, from the start of the year until Thanksgiving, more than 50% of sexual assaults will occur on college campuses.
Besides our nonexistent education on consent for public schools, Tennessee’s lack of sex education shows itself in how our teen pregnancy rate consistently ranks higher than the national average. Our infant mortality rate and national maternal mortality ranking are abysmal. Nationally, sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in states with abstinence-only education like our own.
The best way to prevent any of this from happening to young Tennesseans, according to the decades long consensus of doctors and researchers nationwide and around the world, is to provide comprehensive sex education and access to birth control and condoms, but our state legislature cares more about trying to keep up the façade that teenagers and unmarried young people don’t have sex.
Even when we are college-aged adults developing and running our own student-fees-funded programming, that façade must be maintained, and any legislation (or special report) from the General Assembly will suggest that Sex Week is inherently deviant, deceitful and should be censored up to the brink of unconstitutionality.
UTK’s state funding becomes a bargaining chip to a legislature that has no regard for the quality of constituents' adequate health education.
Even if our state had adequate sex education, there would still be a need for Sex Week and sex education programming. We saw the need for sex education that so many of our peers and ourselves desperately need and were deprived of, and we’ve done our best to fulfill that.
But the conversation around sex and sexuality is ever-changing, and as we respect these topics as serious academic inquiries, we work to update our own programming on gender, sexuality and sex as the field grows, just as any other academic field.
With all of these shortcomings in mind, I present our anonymous Google form, where you can ask us anything on your mind related to sex, sexuality, gender or relationships.
We are not doctors, but all members of SEAT must undergo comprehensive sex education training provided to us by Planned Parenthood.
This is a judgement-free zone, so don’t feel like any question is “too obvious”; if you are from a state requiring abstinence-only education, you were deprived of this education.
Do you have a question about sex, sexuality, or relationships? You can ask us to find you accurate and reliable information from experts by tweeting @SexWeekUT, direct messaging @Sexweekut on Facebook or submitting a question to our anonymous Google form.
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