Sex Week navigates sponsorship ban

Although administrators banned corporate sponsors from Sex Week 2012, intensified efforts to raise money and a focus on inviting local speakers allowed its organizers to offer roughly twice as many events as the previous Sex Week, in 2010.

The biennial event, which concluded Tuesday, secured $13,000 — a larger operating budget than in 2010 — after soliciting support from the Yale administration, student groups and outside donors, said Sex Week co-director Connie Cho ’13. Cho said the lack of corporate sponsors forced organizers to cancel some events at the last minute and reach out to fewer high-profile speakers. Still, all 10 students interviewed said they thought Sex Week organizers succeeded in avoiding the material that some critics considered sexually explicit last fall.

“This year, we planned Sex Week with a huge commitment to writing grant applications, soliciting funds through Yale and the Yale community,” Cho said. “Any time we spent on fundraising was time that we couldn’t spend on content or execution of events.”

Sex Week had faced an uncertain future after the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate recommended that administrators ban the event series in its November report, though University President Richard Levin said he would give organizers the chance to draw up a proposal that “might warrant continuation” of the event. Sex Week organizers agreed not to use the Yale name or corporate sponsors in this year’s event, and administrators approved the organizers’ proposal on Dec. 20.

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said she thought Sex Week was “educational rather than sensational,” though she added that she did not attend any events herself.

Still, Cho said the lack of corporate sponsorship limited organizers’ ability to attract high-profile speakers, a restriction that encouraged organizers to instead invite more students and faculty members — who would not need to be reimbursed for travel or food expenses — to moderate Sex Week activities. Emphasizing Yale’s resources allowed Sex Week to hold more events this year, she said, adding that the “Faculty Lunch Series” program, in which students could eat lunch with faculty members and discuss issues of sexuality, added eight activities to the schedule by itself.

The Yale College Dean’s Office agreed to help fund four Sex Week events — the first time the Dean’s Office has provided financial support to the event series, Cho said. She added that Sex Week also received donations from other campus resources, including the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center, the Communications and Consent Educators program, and several residential colleges.

Despite the advisory committee’s concern that Sex Week had strayed from its original mission of promoting sexual health and instead featured “titillating displays, ‘adult’ film stars and commercial sponsors of such material,” students interviewed who attended Sex Week events said they did not think the material was inappropriate.

“I don’t think [Sex Week] was sexually explicit,” Klara Markus ’13 said. “[Organizers] talked about sex in a frank way which in a college campus should be the way that it’s done. I don’t think that it makes sense to do it any other way.”

But Bijan Aboutorabi ’13, one of the co-founders of True Love Week — an alternative series of events organized by Undergraduates for a Better Yale College that aimed to promote love and fidelity — said he thought Sex Week still focused too much on casual sex and Yale’s “hook-up culture,” citing the event’s “Fornication 101 with Oh Megan!” and “BDSM and Alternative Sexualities” activities as objectionable. He added, though, that he recognized that Sex Week organizers took steps to “tone down” the event and reduce its “sensationalism.”

While True Love Week and Sex Week operated as distinct events this year, Cho said she could see the possibility of collaborating in the future as long as “all speakers were in accordance with [Sex Week’s] rigorous LGBTQ-inclusivity process and [the event’s] mission to raise multiple voices on campus.”

On Feb. 6, about 50 students staged a “kiss-in” in protest of a True Love Week talk with Providence College professor Anthony Esolen, who had published statements criticizing homosexuality that some students found offensive.

But Aboutorabi said he did not think True Love Week would likely collaborate with Sex Week in the future.

“Even the name ‘Sex Week’ is not something that we would want to sign on to,” he said. “It makes sex itself the center rather than human relationships.”

The next Sex Week will take place in 2014, and True Love Week organizers said they hope their event will happen annually.

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