When two freshman sisters at UCLA were told their mandatory orientation on sexual harassment would include a section on sex education, they respectfully requested exemption from that part of the program. As Catholics, Angelica and Bella Ayala did not want to participate in the sex-ed presentation — which discussed, among other topics, how to put on a condom and how to ask someone to have sex with you — because contraception and premarital sex violate their moral code. But the two girls were swiftly reprimanded for their small protest and told they were required to attend another session, even if it violated their conscience.
According to California education code 231.5(e), educational institutions must provide information on sexual harassment to students in mandatory orientation programs, and at UCLA the orientation program on sexual harassment also covers topics of “sexual health.”
“We heard from upperclassmen who were also uncomfortable about the orientation because it advocated contraception and premarital sex,” Angelica Ayala told me in a phone interview. As the girls later discovered, the orientation also included an active-participation section where counselors asked students for examples of “how to ask someone to have sex without ruining the mood.” Another section included a skit about sexual harassment, replete with “graphic language” and a detailed description of “a couple passionately making out.”
“So I e-mailed the New Student and Transition Programs at UCLA,” said Angelica. In response to her request for exemption, she was told by her counselor that she could “step out of the room” for the part she was uncomfortable with. Other students who were equally uncomfortable with the orientation were never given that option — they were told at the beginning that the entire presentation was mandatory. (Bella stayed in the room but put on headphones during the sex-ed portion.)
“But we didn’t just want to be passive,” Angelica stated. “We wanted to pass the message of abstinence.” So she and Bella handed out brochures before the orientation that advocated abstinence and presented the danger of contracting STDs from premarital sex. When Angelica, whose orientation was at a later time than her sister’s, finally entered the auditorium, the counselors were confiscating the brochures. Angelica later overheard a counselor say, “That’s not the message we wish to be advocating.”
“My counselor knew I had passed out the pamphlets,” said Bella, “and told me it was not allowed to pass out brochures at private events without asking the dean’s office.” It was then that she was told that she had to make up the session and that missing a mandatory session could result in having her academic records put on hold.
“My counselor also told me,” Bella continued, “that she understood that I had ‘religious beliefs’ but that ‘if someone came to you for help you shouldn’t tell them what they were doing wasn’t right and turn them away.’” Her counselor had made the assumption that, because Bella did not want to attend a lecture on condom use and “how to ask someone to have sex without ruining the mood,” she must necessarily vilify all those who do wrong in her eyes.
“That’s completely inconsistent with my religious faith,” Bella told me. “We should have compassion for people and separate the sin from the sinner.”
“My sister,” Angelica added, “as it stands now, still has to make up the session. I had been told I might have to as well, but the next day I was told I would not have to.”
Despite the confusion about the make-up orientation, the two sisters have already contacted the Life Legal Defense Fund (LLDF), which has offered them free legal services.
“The first question presented to me,” Katie Short, the girls’ attorney at LLDF, told me, “was whether the twins could be compelled to attend those parts of the presentation which were not in fact mandated under either California law or university policy. As for going forward, I am still evaluating the legal options.”
The Ayala twins are not merely worried about themselves and their own legal rights. “Our main objective now is to get UCLA to make changes to orientation,” Bella said. “UCLA is not being clear on what is mandatory, and we want students to be tolerated if they have religious or moral objections.”
When asked if they feel that UCLA stifles free speech or is hostile to their religious beliefs, the girls said that they haven’t had much experience yet at UCLA and they aren’t sure. However, they did say that “orientation is supposed to introduce you to what the institution is all about,” and the sex-ed workshop is “institutionalizing liberal bias.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its initial posting.