Following last week’s series of sexual education, discussions, events, and seminars, Tennessee lawmakers approved a resolution yesterday ordering a new policy at the University of Tennessee. The changes will need to establish an opt-in policy for the use of student activity fees in certain cases. The policy would necessitate approval from the payers of those fees before allowing funds to be used to subsidize controversial events such as Sex Week. State senators overwhelmingly passed the resolution with a 23-6 vote. Officials in Tennessee seek further bans on what they consider to be an unwanted and radical event at the university.
Sex Week was first held at Yale University over 10 years ago. The 2002 event was touted as a sexual education program which would focus on sexuality in America. The program, originating with the head of Student Health Education, provided opportunities for students to learn about relationships, intimacy, love, and sex from experienced professionals. A number of groups including the Women’s Center agreed to co-sponsor the event. Yale, as the founding university, and other universities including the University of Tennessee are host to a variety of speakers. The event typically provides access to sex therapists, clergy, medical professionals and experts in numerous fields of study.
While the University of Tennessee (UT) was one of the first 10 schools in the United States to host Sex Week, it has been unwanted by lawmakers since its inception. In 2013 UT held its first Sex Week which had over 4,000 attendees. Just under three weeks before the 2013 event, school administrators took away two-thirds of the funds previously earmarked for the event in response to state legislators’ disapproval. Event founders and organizers were able to fundraise privately and recapture the lost money to continue with event plans.
According to their website, the Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) student organization sponsors the week of activities in order to provide not only sexual education but sexual health and empowerment as well. They indicate that their goal for Sex Week is to promote dialogue, cultivate positive lines of communication between groups holding different values or orientations, and provide medically accurate programming. They further go on to assure readers that although the event is entitled Sex Week, they do not presume the attendees are sexually active and offer programming for everyone.
In the face of previous opposition from lawmakers, SEAT again held the event this year. Rather than being able to use student activity funds this year, the event was held using privately raised funds. The university president, Joe DiPietro, urged lawmakers to not penalize the school for allowing this display of student’s First Amendment rights. While the Tennessee senate has already passed Senate Joint Resolution 626 to require approval of student activity fees for controversial uses, some of the members of the senate remained unsatisfied.
Senator Stacey Campfield indicated his unhappiness with the resolution saying that it did not do enough. He plans on pursuing additional legislation to limit funding. A separate resolution passed by the Tennessee House of Representatives denounces the organizers of the Sex Week event.
While the resolution passed does not actually have the force of law, officials at the University of Tennessee appear to be taking the change in policy request under advisement. DiPietro states that he will be taking the information to the university’s board and working with them for discussions on how to handle and manage student activity fees. The university officials appear to be attempting to bridge the gap between a number of students who want to continue the annual Sex Week event and the Tennessee legislators who have denounced the event as radical and unwanted.
By Dee Mueller