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Critical Thinking in Sexuality class moves forward with pilot launch

By Anna Ta     11/30/16 1:25am

A pilot Critical Thinking in Sexuality course will be offered this spring semester and plans are in place to implement a mandatory fall semester program for freshmen starting next year, Student Association President Griffin Thomas announced at the SA Senate meeting Monday night.

Thomas said college governments and Students Transforming Rice into a Violence-Free Environment liaisons will disseminate more information in coming days, but said Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson and other high-level members of the administration support the move forward with the pilot and planned mandatory program. The mandatory program will not be an official course, and therefore will not require Faculty Senate approval, Thomas said.

For the pilot, one or two Lifetime Physical Activity Program sections will be offered to all Rice students, though the sections are not yet available to add via Schedule Planner and Esther. Allison Vogt, the director of sexual violence prevention and Title IX support, said the curriculum combines aspects of the originally proposed CTIS class and Project SAFE; the Title IX office will contract out social workers from organizations such as the Houston Area Women's Center and the Montrose Center to teach the sections, with students potentially working as TAs.

“My hope for the pilot program is to get a better understanding of how the program will actually work,” Thomas, a Lovett College senior, said. “We want to see how relevant it is to Rice students and how to make it more tailored to Rice. We want to make it really practical for them and have a real impact on campus community.”

Thomas said he and Hutchinson did not want to display the course on Schedule Planner before notifying the SA Senate, saying that he was conscious of complaint that the CTIS process has at times moved too quickly.

“As we approached how to move forward, Dean Hutchinson and I were interested in going slowly and getting it right,” Thomas said. “This semester we’re going to iron out some of the kinks and make sure that we had opportunity to roll it out to the student body.”

The class will be relatively small and based on discussion and activities, Thomas said, and will include a test at the beginning and the end to assess the program’s effectiveness as well as possible changes. According to Thomas, all students who complete the classwork will pass.

Next year’s program will be mandatory for incoming freshmen, but will not have credit hours attached. Instead, those who do not complete the program will have registration holds placed on their Esther accounts. Under current plans, transfer students will not be required to complete this class, but Thomas said this could change.

The program will meet for five mandatory weeks for 50 minutes, in line with a recommendation on sexual education from the Centers for Disease Control. According to Thomas, students will no longer take Project SAFE during Orientation Week, but will cover topics on consent, sexual assault, bystander prevention, domestic violence, healthy relationships and stalking during the mandatory five weeks of the program.

In the second half of the semester, there will be an optional five week section that will cover contraception, human trafficking, rape culture, sexually transmitted infections and other subjects, according to Vogt.

Hutchinson said such an approach has been shown to be effective.

“Research tells us that, by covering these topics in multiple points of contact over an extended period [as opposed to an hour and a half of Project SAFE], we will be more effective in our educational efforts on these subjects,” Hutchinson said.

Vogt emphasized the first part of the fall program is a workshop rather than a course.

“Calling it a class makes it seem like a course you sign up for and that you are then getting a full credit for,” Vogt said. “I don’t want anyone to get any misinformation about what this is.”

Vogt said the mandatory portion will focus on topics most relevant to the Rice experience.

“The curriculum itself has a lot of information about things people may experience on campus,” Vogt said. “The workshop will teach people how to recognize it as it’s happening, not only to themselves, but to others, and when they’re acting in that way. We are hoping that students learn that some behaviors they’ve been taught before are not necessarily okay here at Rice.”

A Critical Thinking in Sexuality course was originally proposed by former SA President Jazz Silva (Sid Rich ’16) in fall 2015 as a measure to combat sexual assault on campus. The SA Senate passed a bill creating a task force to develop the curriculum, which was then to be voted on again by the SA Senate and presented to Faculty Senate for approval of a course. However, delays led to the status of CTIS becoming uncertain until Monday’s announcement.

“There are no words to describe the joy and relief I’ve felt since hearing the news [of the pilot],” Silva said. “As a nation we’ve seen decades of assault, decades of protest and simultaneously decades of inaction. I’m so humbled to even be associated with a university that is willing to take action on this scale.”

According to Thomas, some students said last year they or their parents could have religious objections to some of the material covered by a mandatory sexuality course. Silva said some students objected in particular to the inclusion of contraception, and the task force added Ethan Perez, a member with a religious background, in order to better understand some of those concerns.

"Certain students felt that they couldn’t or shouldn’t contribute to conversations about sexuality because they were remaining abstinent until marriage," Silva said. "I think the largest push back we got from religious students came when it was suggested that we discuss contraception in the course."

In order to address these objections, Vogt said the mandatory program will not cover contraceptives or pornography, though these may be included in the second, optional five weeks.

“We’re hoping that students with religious objections see that we’re not teaching about how to have sex, what to do with contraceptives, or how to prevent [sexually transmitted infections],” Vogt said. “We’re not talking about sex, but how to prevent interpersonal violence. The second half will include information that goes a little deeper.”

Silva said she felt these omissions from the mandatory program are in line with how it was initially envisioned.

"While I personally believe that students could benefit from learning more about safe sex or the links between pornography and assault, I also realize that there is a limited amount of material that can be covered," Silva said. "I trust that the experts who developed the course know what is most effective."

Thomas said the fact that the program will not count for credit hours addresses concerns that a credit-bearing course could limit or disadvantage freshmen from taking other classes. Vogt said many sections of the program will be offered throughout the day so that any freshman should be able to fit it into their existing schedule.

“We are designing an innovative course with an ambitious goal,” Hutchinson said. “This takes a lot of time and a lot of conversation to gather ideas about what will be most effective. Our staff and the students with whom they have been collaborating have been working hard for a long period of time to design this program.”

Some other students, however, are still not sold on the course. Will Rice College junior Carey Wang said he is skeptical that it will work.

“I think it’s based on a really good idea and motivations,” Wang said. “However, I think it is a very difficult course to execute in a way that will be effective in a way that students will pay attention and learn from it.”

Thomas said Hutchinson has been a major ally in the development and implementation of the program. Hutchinson said he is excited to learn from the pilot program.

“This is a very significant step forward, and I am proud of the staff and students who are putting Rice at the leading edge of this type of programming,” Hutchinson said.

This article has been updated to reflect additional information: human trafficking, rape culture, sexually transmitted infections will be covered in the optional portion of the class; the Houston Area Women's Center and the Montrose Center are options for hiring contract instructors. Two additional quotes from Jazz Silva were also added.

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