Sex Week Backlash

by Nathan Harden

Word continues to spread about the misogynist and porn-filled college sex events that are now appearing at universities all over the country. Other schools, including Brown and Northwestern, are following Yale’s shining example. Yale pioneered the idea of the college “sex week,” offering pornographers and the sex-toy industry direct access to students in the name of education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) has an essay by professor Margaret Brooks of Bridgewater State University, in which she cites my report on Sex Week at Yale from earlier this year. Brooks argues that, for reasons of educational responsibility as well as legal liability, universities can no longer hand their sex-education programs over to student leaders, absolving themselves of any responsibility for event content.

Important liability issues are at stake. Universities should adopt policies that prohibit presenters from using images that benefit their own publicity purposes but that could potentially harm students’ futures. In addition, to prevent sexual-harassment violations or physical-injury claims, universities should always prohibit presenters from humiliating or making physical contact with audience members. They must be vigilant about preventing nonphysical forms of sexual harassment as well, such as presenters calling women sluts or creating a sexually hostile atmosphere by showing degrading pornographic films.

Of course, one might think it appropriate to make the above appeal on moral grounds. But I predict that the threat of legal or financial liability for sexual harassment is the only thing that will motivate our morally bankrupt universities to restrict graphic and degrading content within their own walls. There are a few students at Yale under the age of eighteen. Have Yale administrators considered the legal implications of showing X-rated films to those students? I doubt it.

Yale’s president, Richard Levin, and other leading administrators seem to view Sex Week with a “kids will be kids” attitude. If he and other administrators don’t care about the moral problems associated with showing films of women being degraded sexually and verbally by men, then maybe awareness of the legal and financial risks they are running will get their attention.

Then again, maybe not.