This article was originally published by Campus Progress.
Students at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville said they were disappointed, frustrated and enraged when their university's administration announced late Wednesday that it was pulling state funding from Sex Week.
Sex Week is an event that explores concepts of love, gender identity, relationships, sexual orientation and sex. Without state funding, the event will be down $11,145, or two-thirds, of the event’s budget.
Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT) organized Sex Week as part of its goal to promote honest discussions about sex and sexuality. The University of Tennessee is one of the first 10 universities in the country to host Sex Week, an event that Yale University began in 2002.
“I know, personally, I was really proud of my school for being so open-minded and supportive of something that’s very progressive," Melissa Slayton, a student at the University of Tennessee told Campus Progress. "Honestly, I was really surprised that, that would even happen at UT in the South. But it did, and that was really cool."
Tennessee has been at the center of the debate on sex education in recent years. Most notably was when Republican Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill last year banning teachers from discussing “gateway sexual activity.” And while some administrators and politicians refuse to acknowledge the importance of having conversations about sex, more students in Tennessee are having sex than most other states nationwide. In 2009, 51 percent of female high school students and 56 percent of male high school students in Tennessee reported having sex—compared to 46 percent for students of each gender nationwide.
“Our society is either really sex enthusiastic or sex negative," Nickie Hackenbrack, a student at the University of Tennessee, told Campus Progress. "Sex we see on TV or in porn is not accurate, and we are not being properly educated because of how sex negative our education system is… Sex Week is trying to open up that discussion and trying to get people to open up about sex and sex health and how it pertains to their lives and how they want to approach it."
While there were some admittedly controversial panels planned for Sex Week, including a golden condom scavenger hunt, a majority of the events were dedicated to ensuring that students are knowledgeable about sex and how it affects their health.
“I know some of the programming was a little more risqué," Slayton said, "but they were going to offer free HIV testing and have different seminars like how to talk to your parents about sex. They have programming on religion and sexuality, Christianity and sexuality. I know some of the programs were going to be hosted by Christian organizations on campus."
"As a gay man, I've been overjoyed in response to the copious amount of events geared toward students who identify as LGBTQA that demonstrate the organizations emphasis on non-discrimination," said Kevin Brown, a student at UT, speaking to the inclusiveness of the programming.
The administration’s decision to defund the event came in the wake of outrage from media pundits and state politicians. State Sen. Stacey Campfield—who proposed the "Don't Say Gay" bill in his past, which would have prohibted teachers in Tennessee from discussing homosexuality in the classroom—led the charge against Sex Week.
"After reading this article...and another in FOX NEWS verifying this same story, I think it is well in order for us to reconsider our actions [passing the UT budget on Wednesday] and would like to make that motion so UT can either verify or deny publicly these incredible allegations,” Campfield posted on his website last week.
Yet, while politicians and news pundits were enraged by the week’s planned events, UT students saw little controversy on campus. Some students at UT even created a video that expressed their support for Sex Week.
[Campfield’s] conservative pressure has caused Jimmy Cheek [UT chancellor] to pull funding, and I’m very upset to see that Cheek is being influenced by forces outside the university," Hackenbrack said. "He’s not paying attention to the students and their wants or needs.”
Despite facing an uphill battle with the event only weeks away, students haven't given up. Hours after the chancellor’s announcement, students created a petition on change.org to restore funding for Sex Week. It garnered more than 1,000 signatures in the first 24 hours.