Changes could be coming to how Sex Week at the University of Tennessee is funded after the Tennessee State Comptroller’s Office released a new report on Wednesday during the Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville.
The weeklong educational event has caused controversy statewide since it first started in 2013. The state legislature officially condemned the event in 2014 and made an effort to pull funding. UT responded by moving to an opt-in system for fees that support campus programs.
More online: Read the full report [PDF]
The report focused on following the money. The student group that puts on Sex Week gets donations and fundraising, but most of its money comes from an optional student fee and the comptroller found there is very little transparency surrounding that process.
The state comptroller found Sex Week received more than $105,000 from student fees since 2013. The Senate committee also learned that Sex Week happens at other campuses, even where there is no funding.
University of Tennessee interim president Randy Boyd pledged to improve policy while protecting students’ right to free speech.
“We believe in the right of free speech and we’re going to make sure that we stand up for our students and give them the right to express themselves to lead. We also believe in our students. We believe in committing to their education and their opportunity to lead other students. So we’re going to support them in every way that we can,” said Boyd.
Boyd says he wants to create a more transparent way of distributing the funds and make sure the money goes to strictly educational activity.
In a letter addressed to the comptroller, Boyd said the university would hold a public discussion at its next board meeting on March 1 and work with the board to stop allocating fund directly to registered student organizations and eliminate the Student Programming Allocation Committee.
Boyd said he will work with the board to develop a process where the administration decides what programming to fund, including sex education programming, with input from students. He also said the university will adopt a more consistent and proactive communication strategy concerning Sex Week.
He also made it clear the university does not condone foul language and salacious wording in any Sex Week advertising.
Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis issued a statement on the report, saying in part:
Programming for students and the ability of our students to create and participate in registered student organizations is critical for our campus and something we feel strongly about offering. The report gave us a number of things to consider, and we chose options for moving forward that preserve programming for students.
We are currently working to put in place a new process that includes student input into programming decisions funded with student activity fees and also gives university leadership a greater oversight role. This process is specific to how all funding decisions are made and does not impact anyone’s First Amendment rights. We are looking at other university student activity fee funding models, including other funding models within the UT System. The goal is for this new process to go into effect in time for fall semester programming decisions. It does not impact programs already approved in the current spring semester.
SEAT, the student group behind Sex Week, also issued a statement:
There are many value statements being made about the nature of Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) and Sex Week in the report recently released by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. To provide clarity and student input, the leadership of SEAT is publishing this statement.
SEAT’s mission, first and foremost, is to foster a comprehensive and intellectual discussion on sex, sexuality, and relationships through entertaining, captivating, and academically informed programming. Considering our mission, we believe our programming has been widely mischaracterized. The insinuation that we do not understand “human sexuality as a legitimate academic field of inquiry” is demonstrably incorrect; we have always treated human sexuality as a topic of utmost intellectual importance. Our programming has been and is still largely put on by professionals, doctors, and professors. We were the first organization to bring many important sex education related topics and ideas to campus, including highlighting the “Red Zone” (the high-risk period at the start of the academic year) through programming on sexual assault awareness and prevention and access to free condoms. Over the years the leadership and styles of leadership of this organization have evolved. The depiction of the current organization and leadership as obstinate and intentionally salacious is misleading. Although SEAT’s leadership has always engaged with campus administrators, faculty, and students to discuss its programming, a concerted effort has been made over the past year to establish meaningful and lasting dialogue with university and campus leaders, including administration, faculty, and students.
Unfortunately, our own campus administrators have allowed members of SEAT, who are all UTK students—a majority of whom have been born and raised in Tennessee—to be repeatedly slandered by elected officials. We are students. We are people. We work hard to produce a full week of educational programming on important issues—issues that are relevant to college-aged adults—for our peers. We are deserving of respect. We are disappointed that our elected officials have deemed it advisable to use state tax dollars, of which SEAT receives none, to launch campaigns against student extracurricular educational programming and, as part of that, student free speech. Yet, these same officials remain silent when white supremacists—advocates of racial disparagement and violence—come to our campus. More than disappointed, we are hurt. Our treatment as a group and as individuals dispels any notion of a Tennessee or Volunteer family.
Furthermore, in response to the Comptroller’s report, the content of our programming has been deemed “outrageous,” “disgusting,” “embarrass[ing],” and “evil.” Describing our comprehensive and inclusive sex education programming in these terms compels us to highlight the Tennessee General Assembly’s unwillingness to serve the people of Tennessee through sex education that improves public health and welfare. Sex Week events that receive the most political backlash, such as Butt Stuff (an event that focuses on anal sex), are often some of the most necessary. That teenagers and young adults experiment in their social lives-including sexually—is well known and not new. Tennessee’s archaic, heteronormative, and cisnormative “family life” curriculum (as evidenced in House Bill 3621) places all Tennessee residents, including college students, in positions to be harmed physically, mentally, and emotionally through the withholding of vital sex education. Consent—a large issue in sexual assault prevention conversations nationwide— is only mentioned in state-authorized sex education in relation to the “age of consent” and a guardian’s consent for a child to receive “family life instruction.” SEAT’s “evil” programming occurs in large part to remedy the failures of the State of Tennessee.
Additionally, it seems important to note that the comments of the Tennessee Senate Education Committee and previous bills from the Tennessee General Assembly have framed us as a small group of unintelligent and unsuccessful people worthy of condemnation. While SEAT is typically managed and operated through a small group of students, we are campus and community leaders. Our members are Honors and Scholars students, on the Dean’s List, College Scholars, First Year Council Members, members of various Student Advisory Boards, members of multiple pre-professional fraternities, Ignite Team Leaders, campus employees, a leader in the Minority Mentoring Program, a resident assistant, a Student Government Association Senator, a Student Government Association Diversity Affairs member, a president and founder of an organization at UTK for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, a volunteer for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a New York Times published author, a recipient of a Recognition to Dedication from the Chancellor’s Commission for LGBT People, and a recipient of multiple American Advertising Awards. SEAT members major in varied disciplines. Alums of SEAT have moved on to national and international success. Alums include:
• a Fulbright Scholar, Schwarzman Scholar, Outstanding Graduate in Major(s), Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion Award recipient (UTK), Courage to Climb Award recipient (UTK)
• a Pickering Fellow, Presidential Associate (American University), and Gillman Scholar
• a Peabody Scholar
• a Critical Language Scholar
• a Fulbright Scholar
• an independent business founder, Mitchell Scholar Finalist, Marshall Scholar Alternate, recipient of Rotary Graduate Studies Award, Outstanding Graduate in Major, and recipient of a Seed of Change Award
• a Seed of Change Award recipient and
• recipients of Master’s and Ph.D. fellowships.
Sex Week 2019 will take place March 31-April 5. We remain excited to bring this exclusive programming to our campus. This year’s events encompass everything from healthy relationships to drag culture to international litigation of sodomy laws to black feminist theory. Sex Week continues to bring comprehensive sex education to UTK, Knoxville, and the State of Tennessee. Let’s talk about it.