Editorial: Taboo topics should be open for discussion at universities

Archive/HIGHLANDER
Archive/HIGHLANDER

Does the topic of sex make you uncomfortable? How about prostitution? Or how about when a professor takes it into her own hands to explain prostitution by using students as examples?

Year after year, a deviance class taught by professor Patty Adler at CU-Boulder explores the topic of prostitution through an interactive lecture. It typically enrolls 500 students, ranking it as one of the most popular classes on campus. But a prostitution skit is what rubbed the university the wrong way. Students were asked to dress up as various prostitutes in order to provide demonstrations of different types of prostitutes. It was eventually suggested by Dean Steven Leigh that students may feel discomfort by the skits, although there was never a direct report from the students that this was actually the case. However, the skit still led the administration to ask Alder to leave her tenured position.

It seems that the university was not able to handle the professor’s topic on prostitution that took students out of their comfort zone and into reality. It’s disappointing to know that a class that took students’ mindset out of the college realm and into imperative issues was being dismissed by the university. The class itself was an enlightening course, and though it pushes the boundaries of acceptability, isn’t that the whole point of college? Apparently not. According to CU-Boulder, the class was considered inappropriate due to the recent Jerry Sandusky scandal, but the reasoning seems to be slightly absurd. Evidently, it seems that there is still discomfort when it comes to sexual occupations which are normally swept under the rug.

But it’s imperative for the topic of sex to be out in the open so that students can discuss a common form of affection. With the topic of sex, the idea to act oblivious to uncomfortable topics is an ignorant approach since it leaves a younger generation unaware of the potential harm they may be inflicting on someone or themselves. In fact, this is made clear by the more than 19 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported amongst young adults and adolescents.

Preventing the topic from being discussed allows more harm than good especially when millions of youth are contracting STIs and are unaware of the ways to prevent diseases from spreading. This, then, has the potential to make sexual violence the next topic of discussion to come out of the bag and well, everything else that deals with sex — like prostitution.

UC Riverside has taken the right approach by being accommodating of diverse perspectives and showing that it is willing to tackle sensitive subjects. Human Reproduction and Sexual Behavior, or more popularly known as “Dirty 30,” portrays various stories, photos and in-class demonstration that tie together the banal sex-ed classes we took in grade school. Frankly put: This UCR course establishes an environment of open and mature discourse about sex.

And although becoming comfortable with sexuality is important, it is also vital to inform students about instances of sexual violence, human trafficking and even prostitution. Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman, professor at the University of Wisconsin, confesses that when he was a graduate assistant, the professor he worked for stated that the reason he didn’t talk about sexual violence was because of the discomfort students revealed in class. The professor began to scale back the topic of sexual violence from lectures to just reading assignments to an optional reading assignment to nothing at all.

Despite this, Dr. Grollman holds a class named the Sociology of Sexuality where he discusses the common topics of sex and also discloses the dangers that come with sex that are far beyond STIs. Although the concept is an uneasy thing to grasp, Grollman states, “While it is fun to discuss hooking up, how we define sex, the numerous sexual identities, it is also crucial to discuss the way in which sex is infused with power — how systems of oppression shape and constrain our sexualities, how oppression itself can be sexualized, how oppression is reflected in sexuality itself.”

So when it comes to the topic of prostitution, the same theory should also come into play. Prostitution happens and simply mentioning it has been conveyed as a taboo topic by CU-Boulder. The concept that CU-Boulder missed is the importance of students being taken out of their comfort zone and grasping issues that are actually occurring in the world. Being uncomfortable with the information taught should be a common feeling in lecture halls. However, that doesn’t mean students should feel pressured to take part in anything they do not feel comfortable with. But real world issues that are considered tense subject matters actually allow students to know what is happening currently in our era. College should be where students are immersed into an environment that intellectually stimulates and prepares them for the unpleasing appearance of life.

Granted, dressing up as prostitutes is outlandish — but the idea is to engage students with the world that they are a part of. Encouraging students to take a step out of the box enables them to truly understand the importance of these kinds of social issues that occur on a daily basis. Universities should not shy away from explicit subject matter but instead create an environment where students can see it objectively and subjectively to comprehend matters that may be considered taboo in a lecture hall. It takes both students and professors into an uneasy arena but this should not prevent expanding students’ horizons and their perspectives on society.

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