Sex and Education
Wendy Ewald asked me to work with her and a freshman seminar class she was teaching with Martha Saxton. The class was intended to address issues related to sexual assault on the Amherst campus. It was a daunting challenge. The more I learned the more difficult it became to think of ways to approach the subject in terms of an art project of some sort. We decided to start by having the students interview people on campus to attempt to understand the range of perspectives that existed. The students came up with questions of their own and used some from the list below that I created: What was your first sexual experience? Do you feel like you have ever been sexually assaulted? If so what were the circumstances? Have you ever deflected an unwanted sexual advance? If so how did you do that? What does dating mean to you? At what point in dating someone is it appropriate to engage in sexual activity? What kinds of activities? Do you use safe sex practices? What is safe sex? What constitutes a sexual assault? What should the repercussions be for a student who has been proven to have sexually assaulted another student? Is it possible that someone can be falsely accused of sexual assault? What were the sexual dynamics of pre- agricultural humans? What are the sexual dynamics of other primates? Is monogamy the answer? Is monogamy a problem? What sort of formal sex education have you received? What sort of casual sex education have you received? Reading the interviews left me even more uncertain about how to proceed. I came to campus for a visit (I live in Portland, Oregon). I was given a campus tour with descriptions of the various locations in which sexual assault might occur. I learned about the conflicted history of co-education on campus. Terms like “cuffing” and “hooking up” were explained to me. I still didn’t know what to do in regard to a class project. One of the students mentioned having been on a debate team in high school. It occurred to me that a “debate” of sorts might be a good way to present a variety of the perspectives I’d encountered. There was some resistance to the idea, and concern that it would be too antagonistic. But I liked the way that a debate could involve many people with multiple viewpoints and be presented publicly. So instead of a traditional oppositional debate, we decided to use the debate form but to leave it more open ended, more about presenting different aspects of the same general topic. Along with the public event, which takes place on Dec 9th , 2013, we also created this publication so that everyone on campus could have a copy. We hope that it will increase understand of sexual assault and what might be done to mitigate it in the future.