Undergraduates at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville are not learning about the Constitution this week, the focus of The Tennessee Star’s new series of articles for secondary students in grades 8 through 12. Instead, they are participating in the school’s fifth annual “Sex Week.”
“Sex Week is a whole week of student activities that our student organization called SEAT puts on during the spring semester,” the web site says:
Sex Week 2017 will be April 3-7. Our goal is to create a safe space where students can openly engage in comprehensive and academically informed discussion about all things related to sex, sexuality, relationships, and gender. Basically, we want to educate, because this stuff is important!
“We firmly believe that sex education is not comprehensive without including conversations about pleasure and empowerment. Learning about consent, how to communicate your needs with partners, and how to find pleasure and fulfillment in yourself is really critical to building a healthy and safe campus. Not convinced? Sexual pleasure is included in the World Health Organization‘s definition of sexual health,” the website adds.
Some of the important classes University of Tennessee undergraduates can attend during Sex Week include this top ten list:
(1) Sex Week Carnival
(2) International Aphrodisiacs Cooking Workshop
(3) Sex Week Cabaret
(4) Stripping Away Female Sexuality
(5) Crossroads: Identities Within Feminism
(6) Leveraging Privilege for Reproductive Health
(7) Having an Affair With Yourself
(8) F*ing the Patriarchy
(9) Pop, Pussies, and Politics
(10) Trans Bathroom Access
The event is organized by a “project” called Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), which is advised by a group of faculty supporters and an executive board comprised of undergraduates. SEAT appears to be a “project” within an administrative department of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
“Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) strives to foster a comprehensive and academically-informed conversation about sex, sexuality, and relationships with the purpose of educating the University of Tennessee student body and the Knoxville community through innovative, collaborative, and entertaining programming and events,” according to its website.
“In Spring 2012, the Issues Committee of the Central Programming Council brought Megan Andelloux, a prominent sexologist, to speak to University of Tennessee students on topics of sexual health and empowerment. After an extremely warm reception, two UT students decided to collaborate to bring Sex Week to the University of Tennessee, making our school one of the first ten universities in the country to host a Sex Week,” the website adds:
The two co-founders felt strongly about bringing this program to the University of Tennessee and the state of Tennessee because of the need for more openness and justice around these issues, in addition to the fact that opportunities to discuss these topics are rare. Appreciating the diversity and unity of the human experience entails understanding the range of sexual and gender identities we hold and express, and how these are shaped by culture, politics, religion, the environment, and even the economy. College is about education and thoughtful discussion, and that includes important topics like sex and sexuality.
SEAT’s First Annual Sex Week in 2013 was successful with 4,000 attendees. We received quite a bit of media attention after losing two-thirds of our funding two and a half weeks before the event. This decision was made by UT administrators in reaction to upset state legislators. SEAT was able to privately fundraise the lost funding in 36 hours with the public’s help and went on to host a very successful event.
Each year, SEAT has built upon this momentum to continue bringing new and innovative programming to the University of Tennessee, consistently to thousands of UT students each year. Despite continued attempts at censuring the programming that SEAT provides, Sex Week continues on at the University of Tennessee and will be celebrating its fifth anniversary April 3-7, 2017.
In 2016, the Tennessee General Assembly passed HB2248, which Gov. Haslam allowed to become law without his signature.
Now Public Chapter No. 1066 of the State of the Tennessee, the law amended Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 9, Chapter 4, Part 51, to read as follows:
State funds shall not be expended by the University of Tennessee to promote the use of gender neutral pronouns, to promote or inhibit the celebration of religious holidays, or to fund or support sex week.
According to one of the organizers “the budget for the six days of events is $22,800. Funding comes from student programs and services fees and a majority of students have chosen to allow their fees to go towards Sex Week programming since lawmakers ruled in 2013 against allowing state funds to go towards the event,” the Knoxville News Sentinel reported:
Sex Week was also cited last year in a law that diverted $445,000 in funding for UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion and again banned UT from supporting Sex Week with state funds. About 80 percent of UT students chose to “opt in” their student program and services fee for student programming such as Sex Week, according to Karen Simsen, director of media and internal relations for UT’s Office of Communications and Marketing.
The “Sex Week” website has a link for donations.
“Donations will help us put on the best week possible. Without your help, we cannot provide a comprehensive and academically informed sex education program,” the donation page reads.
The donation page then links to a PayPal site that says simply “Donate to SEAT. Purpose: SEAT Donation.”
Though the Tennessee General Assembly removed financial support from “Sex Week,” the faculty sponsors on campus are quite enthusiastic about it.
“I am delighted to lend my support to the project of hosting Sex Week at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This endeavor will provide a significant opportunity for our students to come together to talk about issues of sexuality and gender that affect not only themselves and the university community but also our local community and the broader public, Dr. Monica Black, Associate Professor and Associate Department Head, Department of History, and a faculty supporter of “Sex Week” says on the website.
Eight of the twenty-one members of the student executive board are Haslam Scholars, including the two co-chairs, Colleen Ryan and Geoffrey Hervey.
Current Co-Chair of the Executive Board
Colleen is a senior in the Haslam Scholars Program majoring in sociology and global studies. She is interested in post-conflict transformation and rule of law reform, and also in playing Scrabble, traveling, combatting sexual violence on campus, and dismantling the prison industrial complex. Most days, she can be found at The Golden Roast planning the next Sex Week.
Current Co-Chair of the Executive Board
Geoffrey Hervey is a junior Haslam Scholar at the University of Tennessee, studying psychology and sociology with a interest in criminology and criminal behavior. He plans to someday become either a criminal psychology researcher or a profiler for the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, with a focus on crimes targeted towards minorities. He typically spends his time rectifying the plights of marginalized people, watching Shonda Rhimes save television, and being in awe of Beyoncé.
“The Haslam Scholars Program was founded in 2008 by a generous gift from Jimmy and Dee Haslam and Jim and Natalie Haslam. Since that time, the program has flourished into a unique in-depth academic enrichment program for top students at UT to complete independent research, study abroad, and become community leaders, ” according to the program’s website.
“The mission of the Haslam Scholars Program is to foster intellectual curiosity and engage the moral sensibilities of scholars through curricular and co-curricular experiences,” and the program is based on these four pillars, according to the its website:
(1) Integrity: Haslam Scholars demonstrate integrity in their interactions with each other, staff, faculty, administration, and the broader community.
(2) Diversity: Haslam Scholars embrace inclusiveness, serving as models of equity.
(3) Social Justice: Haslam Scholars reflect a shared belief in equality and social justice for all members of society.
(4) Social Responsibility: Haslam Scholars acknowledge their obligation to others, their respective communities, and the global society.
Jimmy Haslam, the current CEO of Pilot Flying J and owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, is the brother of Gov. Bill Haslam. Jim Haslam is his father and founder of Pilot Flying J, which remains family owned and “operates over 650 travel centers in 43 states and Canada, 31 of which are located in Tennessee, and is the 14th largest privately held company in the United States with $22 billion in annual revenues,” according to Forbes.