Student Association President Jazz Silva officially introduced a bill creating a task force to spearhead the design of a mandatory Critical Thinking in Sexuality course for incoming freshmen at the Oct. 28 Senate meeting. Since her presentation, an amendment to mandate a second round of SA voting has been added to the bill. The vote, which was originally scheduled to Nov. 4, will now take place on Nov. 11. Students across campus continue to express concerns to their representatives before they vote on the bill.
The task force created by Senate Bill #4 is charged with developing a course addressing healthy relationships, sexuality perspectives, safe sex, bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention. Silva, a Sid Richardson College senior, first announced her proposal on Oct. 21, following a campus-wide discussion of the results of Survey of Unwanted Sexual Encounters on Oct. 7.
According to Silva, the task force will work with the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum to develop the course outline, which will then be presented to the Faculty Senate for approval. The legislation names three initial members of the task force from the SA: Duncan College President Colin Shaw, who co-proposed the legislation with Silva, Hanszen College President Angela Masciale and Sid Richardson College New Student Representative Ramee Saleh. The initial task force also includes Women’s Resource Center Co-Director Cristell Perez and Brown College junior James Carter, referred to as a “General Student Body Representative.”
“The task force members consist of students who are highly informed about the SUSE results, bring a variety of perspectives to the table, feel passionately about the program, and can think critically about the program,” Silva said. “Most of these people have been working on the proposal for quite some time.”
Carter said Silva asked him to be on the task force for his perspective as a black male and role as a past Orientation Week Coordinator.
“While I don’t have an official position that entitles me to have an opinion, I think that was something else Jazz wanted to have on the task force: someone who doesn’t have a pointed position, who wasn’t already on the SA, someone who’s just a community member,” Carter said.
Recalling the task force’s first meeting, Carter said the five members brought different perspectives and opinions, though they were all appointed by Silva.
“Everyone in the room was critical, not in a bad way – there was a lot of thought that went into the conversation we had,” Carter said. “It wasn’t like everyone in the room was on board with how everything was being presented already.”
Perez, a Baker College senior, said she gave feedback as Silva was developing the class proposal, leading Silva to invite her to join the task force.
“We kind of had the same visions for certain initiatives and approaches for addressing different issues,” Perez said. “I think I do bring a lot of different aspects to this task force, but definitely we still need more diversity. I think we need more people of color as well as more queer people.”
Silva said the task force will add more members, though she said it could not add too many without losing effectiveness, with a hypothetical maximum of seven or eight members. She said students who are not on the task force can still get involved in the process by submitting feedback.
“I’m going to make sure every single piece of feedback, whether it be completely in line with what I believe, or completely outlandish, it’s all on the table,” Silva said.
After the presentation of the bill, the Senate added an amendment requiring the task force to present a detailed course outline to the SA for approval before final approval by the Faculty Senate. The amendment was proposed by Brown College President Tom Carroll. Carroll, a senior, said the amendment’s goal is to allow students the opportunity to stand not just behind the spirit of the course but also its logistics, which he said seems to be many students’ major concern.
“Some students are wary of giving final support before they know more about what the final structure of the class would look like,” Carroll said. “This amendment results in a proposal which better balances the urgency of getting this course implemented in a short time span with the critical need for student engagement and buy-in throughout the unprecedented process creating this course would involve.”
Silva said while the task force may not be able to present a detailed course outline before meeting with the Faculty Senate, it will provide updates to the Senate later in the development process.
“The spirit of the amendment is that throughout the process the task force will be reporting and [Senate] will have some sort of voice of whether they agree with how the process is going,” Silva said. “As a governing body that is trusting, we are just going to respect what the spirit was.”
Carroll emphasized the function of additional voting by the SA under his amendment is simply to gauge student opinion, not halt the process of creating the course.
“This final vote will not be a restriction for the working group going forward with the [Faculty] Senate,” Carroll said. “It would just be to get an idea of where the students stand on this.”
Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson said in the meeting the administration is willing to support whatever initiatives the student body decides to implement. He said the language of the legislation is similar to the initial proposal to create First-Year Writing Intensive Seminars in 2012, which was also voted upon before the curriculum was completely outlined.
At the Oct. 28 meeting, voting on the bill was planned for the Senate meeting a week later on Nov. 4. However, in an email distributing the agenda for the Nov. 4 meeting, SA Secretary Brianna Singh announced that voting would be delayed. According to a website created by Silva supporting the bill, voting is now planned for the Nov. 11 Senate meeting.
“Timing is everything, and we wanted to make sure you all have adequate time and notice to discuss this at your colleges,” Singh, a Hanszen College sophomore, said in the email.
Jake Nyquist, the Senator from Will Rice College, said minor revisions were made to the legislation before and after the bill’s presentation on Oct. 28, but a full copy of the revised bill was not distributed at the meeting or posted online immediately afterward. Nyquist, a sophomore, said he reached out to the Cabinet and SA Parliamentarian Annabelle McIntire-Gavlick, for a final copy but did not receive the final text for two days.
The SA Constitution states that a full copy of a bill must be provided at a Senate meeting at least a week before voting occurs. So, according to Nyquist, the delay in voting was required because a vote on Nov. 4 would be unconstitutional. McIntire-Gavlick, a Lovett College junior, and Perez confirmed that the constitutional requirement of prior notice was the reason for the voting delay.
At the SA meeting, Duncan College Senator Reagan Kapp said she is concerned about how to evaluate the course’s success.
“We need to be concerned about the practical implementation and effectiveness of the course in the long run,” Kapp, a sophomore, said. “It is crucial that we be able to ascertain whether or not our response is helping fix the problem.”
In response to Kapp’s question, as well as others regarding implementation, Silva said she would defer practical judgments to the task force.
Silva also addressed the suggestion that the course should include general well-being topics.
“What we have at Rice is a lot of catch-alls,” Silva said. “Right now what we’re trying to solve is this problem of sexual assault on campus. We are going to give that its own attention.”
At the meeting, Wiess College freshman Avery Johnson questioned whether lack of knowledge is the real cause of sexual assault.
“Are these high rates of unwanted sexual experiences at Rice University due to under-education about consent or due to Rice being a ‘wet’ campus?” Johnson asked. “This proposal, although having good intentions, may be unnecessary.”
Carroll said he thinks solving sexual assault requires a novel and aggressive approach, which is why he supports the legislation and wants to ensure its smooth passing.
“What we’ve seen around the country is that traditional programming has not been sufficiently effective at combating sexual [misconduct],” Carroll said. “This is the only potential solution I’ve heard of that brings everyone to the table in a way [to] allow for meaningful discussion and creation of a shared understanding of community values.”
Senators from several colleges, including Duncan, Lovett, Martel, Wiess and Will Rice Colleges, have been seeking feedback from their constituents. According to Kapp, who initially believed Duncan to be generally in support of the proposal, results from the anonymous survey revealed an alarming split. Kapp said she is concerned the current discussion atmosphere is making dissenters reluctant to share their opinions for fear that their views will not be respected or considered seriously.
“The conversations that we are having in public about the proposed course might not be representative of the opinion split of the entire student body,” Kapp said. “The fact that these results surprised me so much makes me worry that those who do not support the course do not feel comfortable sharing their opinions in public discourse.”
Martel College Senator Marisa Hudson said she has received mixed responses from Martel. Hudson, a sophomore, said most concerns revolve around a few aspects of the class: enforcing mandatory attendance, finding appropriate teachers, course duration, inclusion of LGBT classes and students who may be triggered by these topics.