Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) is gearing up for a full production of Rent, taking place Jan. 30-Feb. 2, and the second annual Sex Week, which will be March 2-7.
Not only is our mission to bring comprehensive and medically accurate sex education to UT, we also strive to make UT a safer and more inclusive place. The scope of this article is aimed to respond to past critics and point out the importance of addressing sexual assault in relation to a sex negative culture, especially on our campus.
Although UT offers a range of sexual assault and sexual health resources, most of these measures are reactions to sexual assault. Services like health care professionals, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, condoms, and law enforcement do not prevent sexual assault from happening or combat rape culture.
In addition, our own Safety, Environment and Education (S.E.E.) Center provides materials for peer-led educational groups; however, they do not advertise its existence. To assume that students, who do not see the need for sexual assault education, will seek out this PDF file worksheet and distribute it to their peers is naive.
This "readily available" information should instead be a detailed list of what to do, what departments to go to and what hotlines to call in case a sexual assault occurs, as a victim or bystander.
As the harbinger of cultural change, Sex Week aims to promote the expansion of sexual health knowledge and a sex positive attitude, without which we cannot even hope to have constructive conversations about sex, sexuality or relationships and the multiple variables that affect our values.
Without the interdisciplinary approach, we cannot help men recognize their privilege, we cannot give victims the confidence to report in the face of shame, and we cannot help people feel comfortable with their sexuality.
Sexual assault prevention and sex education cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach.
However, the abstinence-only policy Tennesseans grow up with does not encourage conversation about consent, healthy masculinity, pleasure and the sexuality spectrum. Sex Week covers all types of events, because sexual education should focus on protection from STIs and pregnancy as well as protection from bullying, harassment and sexual assault.
The university needs to take a more active role, particularly in preventing sexual assaults from happening in the first place, and Sex Week wants to hold our administration and police department accountable. UT officials do have the responsibility to make campus a safe environment for all.
Sadly, the abstinence-only sex education in Tennessee uses fear factors to attend to an agenda. In Nashville last spring, two women came to speak to Hillsboro High School students. They claimed STIs make you infertile and shared inaccurate facts about contraceptives, but labeled it as medically accurate information. A Metro Nashville School Board member responded by saying the students are smart enough to discern fact from fiction. But fiction continues to be concealed as fact.
Even at the University of Tennessee, "students in an academic setting are responsible for digesting the information they receive" is not enough when 28 UT girls needed rape kits in 2012 and when the National Institute of Justice reported that "only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported." The University is not "appropriately fulfilling its role in sexual health education" until no rape kits are needed to be distributed to UT students.
UT does need to be held accountable and take responsibility for the sexual assaults happening on its campus.
One way to make this a reality is to incorporate pleasure into the conversation of sex. In fact, the World Health Organization includes pleasure in their definition of good sexual health.
In order to combat rape culture, we have to stop the sexual repression, because less sexual oppression leads to less sexual violence. Sexual education must make it a point that everybody enjoys and expresses their sexuality differently. Assuming students will distinguish between inaccurate and accurate facts or that students will seek out accurate information on their own is unfair.
We cannot allow UT to not take responsibility for what's happening to its students. UT cannot place the blame on the students for the information they've been given throughout development without presenting better resources. If we can't provide a safe and sex positive place for everybody, then how bright are our "Big Ideas?"
For more information, go to www.sexweekut.org.
Nicky Hackenbrack is a junior in biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology. She serves on the executive board of Sex Week/Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.