The Marquette University administration’s decision to revoke sponsorship of the Female Sexuality Workshop for the second time is supposed to send a clear message to the campus community: No FemSex. However, the decision has only raised more questions. Students, faculty and other community members deserve answers.
FemSex joins a list of gender and sexuality related issues at Marquette, including the Jodi O’Brien scandal, the InterVarsity debacle, canceling of the Vagina Monologues’ campus run, alleged sexual assaults involving athletes and study abroad students, a wave of student awareness campaigns, sexual violence awareness training and a new Gender and Sexuality Resource Center. There seems to be a cycle of progress giving way to more scandal.
Each of these incidents share a common theme: gender and sexuality. It appears that as a whole, the university cannot decide how best to handle these issues. Revoking the Honors Program’s FemSex sponsorship is just one more example.
Marquette has a history of academic freedom, tolerance and a dedication to diversity. Core classes challenge students’ worldview, opinions and comfort zones. Students are encouraged to look at the world around them from different perspectives and to participate in activities that would do so.
FemSex arguably represents one perspective of modern female sexuality. Some of Marquette’s curricular classes already discuss issues of gender and sexuality, but FemSex sponsorship has been revoked twice. The line on
which subjects are acceptable to teach or have programming on, and which are not, is too ambiguous.
The lack of consistency in responding to gender and sexuality programming on campus is also concerning. Previous sexuality programs such as the “Sex@7” series were allowed to proceed but FemSex is not. The academic sponsorship, program content or implied message of allowing the program to run could all be issues that were not present in Sex@7. Yet, without enumeration, there’s no way to know.
Since classes like “human sexuality” are allowed, but an extracurricular workshop on “female sexuality” is not, the distinction needs to be more clear.
It implicitly seems that the university only allows gender and sexuality discussions that it has complete control over, which is ludicrous.
Furthermore, in its second incarnation, FemSex’s Honors Program sponsorship included a syllabus rewrite from last year to address some issues the university had with the student-run program. The university has said the revisions were not sufficient, but they did not specify why, or if there was a new issue with the program’s sponsorship this year.
Continuing to rescind sponsorship of the controversial FemSex program places the university administration in the role of an overprotective parent, ever watching over the “delicate sensibilities” of the student body, guarding them from the evils outside of Catholic higher education with a “because I told you so” and little else as explanation.
Students agree to attend a Catholic institution, and, as such, agree to rules and regulations at that institution based upon Catholic dogma, or official church teachings. Understandably, some aspects of the FemSex program offend such teachings and some may outright oppose them – promoting erotic literature
may be one example.
But, if that is the case, the administration should point out what is wrong with the program, and how to amend it, instead of constantly issuing a blanket “no.”
The Jesuits, as a Catholic order, are committed to an identity of inquiry. Just last week Pope Francis, a Jesuit, recommended Catholics stop “obsessing” over issues of gay marriage, abortion and birth control. He suggested that instead Catholics should focus on finding a “new balance.” Following Pope Francis, the dogma used to dismiss FemSex could be construed as working against a balance accepting all forms of sexuality, including those explored in FemSex.
While the university cannot judge what is and is not offensive to individual students, it can rule on programming according to Catholic teaching. The administration needs to stand up, be transparent and explain what it is about FemSex that is so bothersome. Is it the unit on positive female body image, the explicit female genitalia coloring book, the unit on sexuality and spirituality? Students cannot understand exactly which units, projects, topics or themes are against university policy, teaching and mission if they are never explicitly stated.
At the very least the university could offer its reasoning in the spirit of transparency. That would give the campus community an option for the discussion, dialogue and understanding that Jesuit institutions supposedly foster.