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Sexuality course pilot stalled until spring


By Amber Tong     8/23/16 11:24pm

The Dean of Undergraduates’ office and the Student Association are working to offer pilot programs for a Critical Thinking in Sexuality course in spring 2017 rather than this fall as some expected, according to Dean John Hutchinson.

The course was proposed last October by former SA president Jazz Silva (Sid Rich ‘16) in response to the results of the Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experiences, which found that 24 percent of responding undergraduate women and 7 percent of responding undergraduate men had been victims of sexual misconduct. The course was initially intended to be mandatory this semester for all new students, with a goal of reducing the prevalence of sexual assault.

“The idea is still completely alive as far as I am concerned,” Hutchinson said. “The goal is to completely involve our student organizations in brainstorming and preparing a curriculum and a plan for us to try and pilot. Our goal here is to do this thoughtfully, so that we have a good idea of what it is we’re going to try to do.”

SA President Griffin Thomas said the aim for the pilot is to create optional classes of up to 35 new students as a UNIV or LPAP course.

“The current plan is to offer a couple of pilot programs in the spring semester as a way to judge the efficacy of the course and to better understand what it would actually look like in practice,” Thomas, a Lovett College senior, said.

A Critical Thinking in Sexuality task force, chaired by Silva, was formed last fall to promote the course among different stakeholders and discuss curriculum possibilities. According to task force member James Carter, who is now serving as the SA’s Associate Vice President, the group met with critical entities on campus, including the faculty senate, the Wellbeing Office and the Dean’s office. It also released a video series of student interviews in February to highlight the ways in which the course would enrich and be of service to Rice students.

Silva said she felt that the program had student support, but administration was not fully supportive.

“Last year, the CTIS task force did not feel as if we had the support from a majority of faculty members,” Silva said. “We need to have advocates and champions outside of the student body. Students come and go, like myself, but if we want to make an institutional change we need institutional support.”

Hutchinson said the reason for postponing the roll-out is to allow more time for in-depth planning.

“There’s a difference between knowing the topics you want to cover [and] really working out the details,” Hutchinson said. “Even the format hasn’t really been thought through. So I think we are just taking our time.”

Thomas pointed out that new literature has emerged from the CDC about sexual assault prevention programs after the task force was phased out in May, which he believes will inform the new curriculum and course design.

Thomas said the two main concerns that the SA needs to address are resources and communication with upper level administration.

“There’s been some hesitancy in that, firstly, the idea of offering a new comprehensive course for all freshmen takes a lot of resources,” Thomas said. “Secondly, the SA is doing a really great job of outreach to students and Faculty Senate members, but we haven’t had many conversations with upper level administration.”

Hutchinson said he is committed to the idea that sexual education should be ongoing and comprehensive; he said the idea of it being mandatory raises complicated logistical issues.

“We bring in approximately 1,000 new students every year,” Hutchinson said. “What’s the right format to offer something to someone, particularly if you’re going to require it, that will be comprehensive enough to cover 1,000 people? It’s not a trivial question.”

Hutchinson said the school will look into other educational efforts while carrying out further planning for CTIS. For example, it will require all students to complete an online course educating them on sexual harassment, their rights under Title IX and the resources available to them if they are subjected to harassment.

According to Hutchinson, the school plans to repeat the Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experience in the future but will not do so this year.

“[The survey] will probably be periodic but not annual,” Hutchinson said. “Our goal is to keep track of how we are either progressing or regressing over time. But we don’t actually expect that the time frame over which those variations are going to happen is a year.”

Silva said she sees hope for the course.

“I really, truly hope that something comes of the class, and in the meantime, Rice needs to at least continue the conversation,” Silva said.

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