Sex does not sell

Lawmakers should not have pressured the University of Tennessee to limit funding for Sex Week

Stacey Campbell, a Republican in the Tennessee State Senate, announced Monday he would drop his attempt to put a legislative restriction on University of Tennessee student fees because officials at the university have agreed to change their student fees policy themselves. Campbell’s legislative proposals were largely motivated by objections to the university’s annual “Sex Week,” organized by Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), arguing that mandatory student activities fees should not go toward such an event.

The University of Tennessee has agreed to change its policy so “individual students would have options not to fund student organization expression if they choose,” according to University of Tennessee spokesperson Gina Stafford, as cited in the Chronicle.

Faced with restrictive bills that would likely pass in the state legislature, it was better for the University of Tennessee to negotiate with lawmakers so the university could handle the matter internally. Given that most UT students are unconcerned about their student fees going towards Sex Week, it is unlikely many of them will opt out of funding the program. So the changes in UT policy will likely have little effect anyway. But for legislators to condemn a productive university event and attempt to exercise a power play in order to limit its funding is wrong. The University of Tennessee should not have been pressured to make these changes in the first place.

Universities are home to student groups of many different, often opposing viewpoints. At the University, all CIOs can apply to Student Council for funding, which comes from student activities fees. Many CIOs are associated with certain religions, or certain political and cultural values that not every student subscribes to. Student activities fees support a wide variety of viewpoints at the University, as they should at any school. To limit the amount of funding a certain CIO gets on the basis that not every student supports the values of that particular CIO suppresses the proliferation of alternative groups that allow more students to find their niche at a large university. Such limits on funding also discourage the formation of dissenting viewpoints that provide a foundation for healthy debate.

Not every student at the University of Tennessee will choose to attend any Sex Week events, just as not every student chooses to attend sporting events, which are also financed at least partially by student activities fees. Some students may choose not to attend Sex Week because they disagree with the idea of holding it in the first place, but judging from their itinerary, Sex Week at UT in fact welcomes a wide variety of viewpoints. This year there were sessions dedicated to hook-up culture, committed relationships and abstinence. Some featured guest speakers with a wide variety of academic expertise, and some were advertised as open discussion sessions.

Sex Week at UT also features events dedicated to sexual health and sexual assault — topics which are necessary to discuss at a university. The University itself hosted a conference in February on sexual assault, after which we argued students should continue the conversation, to discuss issues of consent and alcohol consumption. One of the discussions at UT Sex Week this year aimed to have just that conversation.

Sexual health is an equally important discussion topic to ensure students who are sexually active know how to access birth control and STI prevention, testing and treatment.

Even though Campbell’s actions likely will have little practical effect on the money students currently receive to organize Sex Week, the fact that a senator attempted to stifle a program that is funded solely through university fees is concerning. Will the next step be to pass a bill allowing students to refuse their tuition money pay professors who teach classes on gender and sexuality? Lawmakers should not have that kind of power over the ideas a university proliferates to educate their students, especially when such education also contributes to student health and safety. Universities are meant to be places of learning, and Campbell’s threat to the diversity of viewpoints only undermines that purpose.

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