Do College Courses on Sexuality Cause Sexual Assaults?

Billie Wright Dziech has an essay today at Inside Higher Ed arguing that there’s too much sexuality in our society, and so we need to restrict the freedom of professors and students in discussing sexuality in order to protect students from sexual assault. It’s a bizarre and disturbing argument that courses about sexuality are somehow linked to causing sexual assault. There’s no logic, and certainly no evidence, to support this old-fashioned delusion that sexual assault will end if we just stop discussing sexuality.

Although Dziech writes, “Infantilizing emerging adults is itself a form of victimization,” that’s exactly what she calls for. She even quotes a novel that compares young college women to panicked buffalo stampeding over a cliff.

Sexuality is already one of the most dangerous subjects for a professor to talk about, and always has been. Yet according to Dziech, colleges must restrict how many courses discuss sex “to prevent an overabundance of offerings that send a message that sex is the all-consuming focus of education and life.” The purpose of a course catalog isn’t to “send a message” to students; the purpose is to teach what matters, and the idea of putting administrators in charge of regulating sexual content in courses is extraordinarily dangerous to academic freedom.

Dziech doesn’t care about academic freedom: “Academic freedom is a red herring if it is used to violate the stated mission and ethics of an institution.” No, it’s not. And what college has a stated mission to suppress the sexuality of its students? But misusing the word “ethics” to justify suppressing course content about sex is exactly the opposite of a university’s mission, which is to pursue the truth even if it offends someone.

Dziech writes:

So what have some educators offered in classrooms? One fairly common lesson is close observation of speakers who are prostitutes and stripteasers. Another I don’t personally understand is how Northwestern University undergraduates watching a woman being stimulated with a motorized dildo or “fucksaw” were being taught to serve mankind and develop respect for diversity. Nevertheless, just like the movies, that experience too supposedly provided “ tender and beautiful [insight] into growing up in America.”

Dziech does not mention how Bailey has been banned by the Northwestern administration from teaching the human sexuality class without any due process, despite apologizing for it and promising that it wouldn’t happen again (Dziech certainly approves of administrators banning sexual content in classes). And I can’t find her quote about “tender and beautiful [insight]” anywhere online, nor does it sound like anything Bailey or his defenders ever wrote about his case.

It’s rather disturbing that Dziech thinks that a brief segment of a voluntary, extramural event must meet some standard to “serve mankind and develop respect for diversity,” when the purpose of the class is to teach human sexuality. Could any class ever claim to “serve mankind” in everything it teaches?

According to Dziech, “institutions do have the right and the responsibility to demand that students express their sexuality without inconveniencing or embarrassing others.” It’s extremely dangerous to allow censorship whenever someone is “embarrassed” by another person. Apparently Dziech is talking about students who are exiled by roommates having sex. She says “students must behave as adults” and “normal adults” never do this.

But colleges literally force students to share a bedroom with a stranger, which is something no normal adult has to do. Students aren’t hypersexual; they have far less sex than the typical adult. However, college dorms are built upon an archaic model that pretends college students are sexless and deprives them of the normal privacy that adults expect.

Dziech seems to be calling for a return to in loco parentis: “When we relinquished the burden of in loco parentis responsibility, we placed much of the weight on students themselves, and this does not always work well.” But trying to suppress sexuality hasn’t stopped sexual assault on campus. In loco parentis will not end sexual abuse.

I don’t actually care if colleges want to voluntarily discourage students from having sex, as Dziech favors, or encourage sex. But trying to suppress academic freedom while you suppress sex, and declaring that “institutional review of course content and pedagogy are essential” is an alarming step.

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