The organizers of Sex Week 2012 are developing a proposal that they hope will earn administrators’ approval and allow them to hold the biennial event on campus next semester.
After the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate recommended last Thursday that Sex Week be prohibited from using the Yale name or Yale facilities, University President Richard Levin gave its organizers a chance to draw up a proposal that “might warrant continuation” of Sex Week on campus, he wrote in a seven-page response to the report. The organizers of Sex Week, which is scheduled to take place between Feb. 4-14, have already made some concessions in response to administrators’ concerns, but they said they will not shy away from controversial issues in their proposal.
“I think that we’re looking at the balance of events really hard to make sure that the events are relevant to Yale students,” Connie Cho ’13, one of Sex Week’s organizers, said. “Does this mean we’re going to touch on the issue of porn? Yes, because it’s relevant to Yale students.”
Sex Week, founded in 2002 by Jacqueline Farber ’03 and Eric Rubenstein ’04, is a event that “seeks to cultivate a forum for engaging and meaningful discussions about sexuality, intimacy and relationships,” according to its mission statement. In 2010, Sex Week included events such as a Master’s Tea with transgender porn star Buck Angel, a “Sexual Fantasies” talk by sexologist Dr. Susan Block and a sexually transmitted infection test drive.
The Advisory Committee’s 42-page report criticized Sex Week for having strayed from its original mission, stating that “in recent years it has prominently featured titillating displays, ‘adult’ film starts, and commercial sponsors of such material.”
“The Marshall Committee found that it undermined the climate of healthy sexual relationships on our campus and they recommended banning it all together,” Levin said.
Though Levin gave Sex Week’s organizers an opportunity to propose the event in an alternative form, he declined to comment on what type of program the administration would approve.
Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86, a member of the four-person committee that drew up the report, said in a Sunday email that the Committee believed that “immediately banning” Sex Week would be the best way for Yale to uphold its commitment to a safe campus environment.
“The committee did hear from students, faculty and administrators that Sex Week at Yale may contribute to some of the problems with the climate on campus that they described,” Goff-Crews said. “Few talked about the benefits of the programs in much detail.”
Cho disputed that Sex Week had deviated from its original purpose. She said Sex Week plays an important role in promoting discourse about sex and sexuality on campus and giving people “agency” over their sexuality, adding that she is confident that Sex Week “is going to happen.”
Still, organizers have changed the name of this year’s event to “Sex Week 2012” rather than “Sex Week at Yale,” Cho said, and have decided to launch a fundraising campaign instead of using corporate sponsors to fund Sex Week’s events. The Advisory Committee’s report suggested that the administration prevent Sex Week from using the Yale name or relying on commercial sponsors.
The report described a “new sexual climate” present both at Yale and other universities that promotes casual sexual encounters over long-term relationships, which can “blur boundaries of what consent means” and make it difficult to identify and combat sexual misconduct.
Cho said she and the other organizers want to consider criticisms of Sex Week and provide a balance of events that are “inclusive” and “relevant to Yale students.” The organizers do not want to host events purely for “shock value,” Cho said, and they will seek feedback from students about whether certain events would be perceived as “voyeuristic.” As part of their effort to be inclusive, Cho said coordinators are reaching out to student organizations — including religious and advocacy groups — across campus to co-sponsor events, with the hope of having each event for the program be co-sponsored.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd ’90, who has met with the organizers of Sex Week this fall, said in a Sunday email that the event has the potential to be a forum to discuss serious questions about sexuality.
“If the organizers pull off the aims they articulate in their mission statement, that Sex Week is a well-curated and thoughtful series of events about sexuality, intimacy and relationships, then I think it will be a positive contribution to campus climate,” she wrote in the email.
Alexandra Brodsky ’12, one of the 16 students and alumni who filed a Title IX complaint on March 15 alleging that the University has a hostile sexual climate, said she thought that the open dialogue that Sex Week promoted was important for individuals to “claim [their] sexual autonomy.” She called it “a shame” that University is not showing more support of a program she said displays “a new understanding of sex culture on this campus.”
But Eduardo Andino ’13, co-founder of Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, has circulated a petition asking administrators to end Sex Week because he said many of the events promote objectification of sexuality.
“[Sex Week events] always promoted or proceeded on the assumption that casual sex or pornography is a normal part of life and therefore an unquestionable good,” he said, adding that over 200 students have signed his petition since it first began circulating in September.
All 13 other students interviewed said they think that Sex Week should be allowed to continue on campus. Alison Greenberg ’14, who attended Sex Week in 2010 before taking a year off, said she thinks the Committee’s recommendation to remove the Yale name from Sex Week’s title sends a negative message about the importance of discussions about sexual culture.
“I think Sex Week is pivotal in maintaining a healthy sexual culture,” Greenberg said. “It allows people to ask the questions they want to ask all year, but only get to ask once.”
Several students pointed out that attending Sex Week events is optional, and those who do not approve of certain activities can easily avoid them.
Sex Week is a project of the Sexual Literacy Coalition at Yale, a registered undergraduate organization run by Sex Week organizer Courtney Peters ’12.