University of Tennessee students organizing a week-long lecture and activity series called Sex Week say Tennessee lawmakers should make better use of their time than trying to politicize their event.
Lawmakers do not have the power to stop Sex Week, which is set to begin Sunday on the UT Knoxville campus. But they can send a message.
Monday night they passed a non-binding resolution condemning Sex Week.
"It sets a really bad tone for how the state feels about sexual health and feels about student rights on campus," said Sex Week Organizer Brianna Rader. The senior Haslam Scholar has goals of going to medical school and studying public health.
She and the other student organizers hope to start a dialogue about sexuality. The schedule listed on the Sex Week website describes activities and lectures that cover many issues from sexual assault prevention and abstinence to an aphrodisiac cooking class and a drag show.
The state House of Representatives resolution that passed 69-17 calls the use of student activity fees for sexual education "atrocious."
"Go somewhere in a field and have all the sex week you want, but don't drag the UTK brand through the mud to promote their agenda," said the resolution's sponsor, Rep. Richard Floyd, R- Chattanooga.
Rader said lawmakers are missing the point of what Sex Week is all about.
"It's really disappointing that they spent so much time working against productivity in preventing STIs, preventing sexual assault, and preventing unwanted pregnancies and starting a safe dialog about sexuality," Rader said.
Rader's adviser for Haslam Scholars, Sylvia Turner, agrees with Rader that the legislature shouldn't get involved in their speakers.
"Personally and professionally there are other issues that the legislature could have focused on that would be more beneficial to Tennesseans," Turner said.
Maryville College political science expert, Dr. Mark O'Gorman, said resolutions are not always a waste of lawmakers' time, especially during an election year.
"Every Republican in Tennessee is trying to burnish or shine up their credentials to make sure they are the true Republican candidate for their constituents, so all the primary challengers fall away," Dr. O'Gorman said.
Dr. O'Gorman said resolutions are common in all levels of the legislature. He said because the House holds a super majority, they are able to take up whatever issues they choose.
"It's an attempt by legislators provide some kind of moral comfort for their constituents or moral clarity in terms of saying they believe there are some social issues that are not supposed to be funded at public expense or something they think does not need to be part of the public sphere," he said.
But he warns lawmakers to be careful with the number of resolutions they pass.
"If they continue to just have symbolic vote after symbolic vote, sooner or later the rubber has to meet the road. The constituents want to see them do work with regard to the public dollar," Dr. O'Gorman said.
A copy of the resolution will be sent to UT President Joe DiPietro.
Tuesday, he released a statement saying,
"Great universities create environments for the presentation of ideas from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds, and that's part of the learning environment. In this case, there is controversy over content, which is not a new phenomenon. Controversy over programs and speakers at the University goes back decades, but the right to have speakers that represent different viewpoints and topics remains important."
Sex Week runs from March 2-7. All events are open to the public.