Okay, full disclosure here. I'm a student at Yale and one of the organizers of Sex Week. After some well-intentioned but misleading press surrounding the event, I'm thankful that my (mostly) benevolent leaders at The Stranger have allowed me to use this platform to set the record straight.
For the past decade, the biennial Sex Week has brought experts to Yale in diverse fields relating to sex, intimacy, and relationships, including Buck Angel and Dr. Ruth, as well as sex workers, porn stars, psychologists, anthropologists, and religious speakers. We haven't shied away from offering practical and demanded events, including a lecture from Babeland's Darlinda Just Darlinda on how to perform oral sex. As one of eight directors for Sex Week 2012, I'd like to make clear that I'm sharing my views, and not the thoughts of the entire board.
If you read Jezebel, you've probably seen this piece that inaccurately states that Sex Week has been banned. "For now, all that seems clear is that the banning of Sex Week isn't a statement against the discussion of sexuality, but something far more complex." Indeed, it is about something more complex. But Sex Week hasn't been banned, and Jezebel did issue a somewhat misleading retraction. For the record, Jezebel, we're dropping corporate sponsors.
Unfortunately, Jezebel's early scoop has led to some erroneous reports: see here, here, here, and especially here. So where did this all start?
Last March, 16 students and recent graduates filed suit against Yale University under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act for failing to dispel a hostile environment against women. Here's why they filed the suit: One fraternity, DKE, chanted "No means yes, yes means anal" and "My name is Jack, I'm a necrophiliac, I fuck dead women and fill them with my semen!" while marching around freshmen dorms and the Yale Women's Center. Another fraternity, Zeta Psi, held up signs reading "We Love Yale Sluts" while chanting "Dick, dick, dick!" also in front of the Yale Women's Center. An email that circulated between football teams and fraternities ranked incoming freshmen women by how many drinks it would take to sleep with them. This is just a sampling of public incidents, and the rest of the suit details allegations that Yale imposes an onerous bureaucracy on its rape victims.
Needless to say, Sex Week has nothing to do with that misogynistic rhetoric. So we were surprised when the Yale committee formed in light of this lawsuit recommended that Sex Week be banned. They had concerns because, they claimed, we were “prominently [featuring] titillating displays, ‘adult’ film stars, and commercial sponsors of such material.” In response, Yale University President Richard Levin offered Sex Week a fantastic chance to propose an agenda and explain why sex positive education is a good thing. But Levin has also implicitly accused past organizers of receiving kickbacks from the porn industry (we haven't), while saying we can't use Yale's name: "We will not allow the University's facilities or name to be used in the service of corporate sponsors and the private inurement of student organizers."
There is no better way for Yale to end rape and coercion than helping students figure out what they find sexy, while fostering easy communication and respect for sexual diversity. We know that Sex Week hasn't been perfect. We've failed to respond to past misleading, sensationalized accounts with poise. And there was that one time when we failed to rein in a certain performer who decided it was a good idea to expose herself. This event was an outlier, and in general, it feels obvious to say that offering wisdom from diverse, credible sources on sex will pretty tangibly improve lives. We will not dilute our opinions, and we will not refrain from explaining to the President and Dean of our University why students should learn how to communicate their desires to partners and enjoy sex. (That sure was a fun letter to write.)
As a good, straight, Catholic boy from Seattle attending a high school for the children of progressive ex-yuppies, Dan Savage was the first person to convince me that sex—in all its sticky, emotionally fraught, amazing glory—could be compassionately, stimulatingly, and rigorously (in the academic sense) discussed. After a very steep learning curve my freshman year (which still makes me cringe), I'm proud to encourage my peers to discuss sex maturely, without shame. Yale should consider doing the same.