The University of Tennessee is attracting attention once again with its annual activities concerning sexual health has come and passed. Sex Week, which has completed its second year, has repeatedly drawn ire from conservative Tennessee lawmakers.
The state lawmakers are pushing forward a bill that aims to prevent the University of Tennesee and other universities in the state from using university revenue to pay for visiting and guest speakers at events. While this does not include faculty lecturing to students, it does include commencement speakers who may request a fee or traveling expenses to be paid by the university. State lawmakers are meeting this week to vote on the proposed bill.
Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), is at the forefront of the bill and also sponsoring another bill that proposes equal distribution for school funds depending on group proportions. This means that university groups that would like to invite a speaker would be funded directly depending on the number of members in the group.
The current push of these bills is in direct response to the University of Tennesee-Knoxville’s Sex Week, a week-long series of events having to do with sexual awareness and health. The events host a variety of speakers and topics, ranging from abstinence to pornography. This year’s Sex Week includes lectures on sexuality, a forum about sexual abuse, dance classes, a drag show, and a discussion about longterm intimacy which the biggest Christian group on campus is putting together. The events are organized by a student group at the university called Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, or SEAT.
Campfield, who is no novice at stirring the pot, previously gained attention with his bill in 2012, named “Don’t Say Gay,” another school related bill that would have prevented teachers from saying the word gay, as well as prohibit talk of “sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.” That bill failed to see fruition, and faulted again in 2013 when it was resurrected. Campfield cited confused, impressionable youth and the “glorification” of gays as reasons to draft the bill.
Campfield fought against the events last year and is mostly responsible for any ire Sex Week has drawn from lawmakers, which prompted the University of Tennessee to cut some of the funding at the last-minute. SEAT was able to raise funds in order to keep the event alive, and even managed to attract over 4,000 attendees to Sex Week. But legislators were apparently not satisfied with that outcome. “[Lawmakers] don’t care if I went out and privately fundraised $20,000 by myself, they don’t want the event held on campus,” said one of the founders of Sex Week, Brianna Rader.
This year, University leaders have taken a stance against the new bills and the influence of Campfield and his peers. Chancellor Jimmy Cheek believes that the greatness of a school institution lies in the foundation of a free exchange of ideas. “If we don’t have controversial ideas expressed, then we are not really accomplishing the real mission of the University,” said Cheek, noting that the University has a generally strong relationship with legislators, but that “we are just on a different side [philosophically], and we have to justify why we are on that side.
Even so, the events are still garnering the wrath of Tennesee lawmakers, and the Tennessee State House has already passed a resolution that publicly condemned the students of SEAT. In response, students have put together a petition that opposes Campfield’s bills and is signed by over 3,500 students. Cheek, who has had open talks with legislators about the bill, maintains that students have a right to host events of their choosing on campus and called this “a First Amendment issue.”
By Nathan Rohenkohl