Clemson University Asks Students to Take a Sex Quiz as Part of Title IX Training, and it's Beyond Weird
Over the past few days, Clemson University has been the source of major controversy. Clemson is administering a sex questionnaire to students as part of its Title IX training program, and some of the questions seem harmless, even helpful: Will you join a fraternity/sorority? Will you be a student athlete? How often do you use alcohol? But more personal, sex-related questions have students reeling. The university asks its students, for instance, how many times they've had sex (including oral) in the last three months, and with how many different people. In response to student criticism, Clemson has suspended the mandatory training program until further notice as of late last night.
But the conversation is not over. This "sex quiz" comes just months after the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault advised the Obama administration to conduct climate cases such as the one Clemson had in place. As a result, Vice President Joe Biden issued a call to action:
I challenge every college and university, if they are really serious about protecting students, to conduct anonymous surveys. They have a responsibility to know what's going on on their campuses.
The challenge was met with some skepticism. When Laura Dunn, founder of SurvJustice and part of the White House task force, tried to pass a bill requiring sexual assault surveys in Maryland public colleges, The University of Maryland stood in firm opposition. The university's independent student newspaper, The Diamondback, reported that college officials "described the bill as an unfunded mandate that would do little to solve the problem of college sexual assaults".
But clearly Clemson was listening attentively to Obama administration. Unlike the administration's voluntary "challenge", however, failure to complete Clemson's survey was a violation of the university's student code of conduct before yesterday. Although the surveys were said to be anonymous, students were still required to input their campus ID numbers, as well as their names, housing information, and email addresses. Campus Clarity, the group responsible for generating the training program, claims that this personal information is in no way linked to the students' responses. But this hasn't tempered feelings of unease among Clemson's student population. In an interview with Campus Reform, one student remarks:
It’s not that I have an issue with being trained on Title IX. I have an issue with the personal questions that are asked, and the fact that I’m told it’s anonymous, but it’s clearly linked to my name, and it’s obviously through a third party so not only is my information that I’m going to be filling out — incredibly personal information regarding my sex life that I have issues with speaking about — it’s not only going to the university, it’s going to a third party company that I don’t know.
No matter the policy, then, students simply aren't comfortable divulging this information, and rightly so. Asking how many times a student has had oral sex in the past three months is a clear violation of privacy. And although university officials say that students are free to falsify their answers, doing so defeats the purpose of the questionnaire.
Of course, this purpose can also be served without including this sort of invasive questioning. The University of Maryland's officials were right to suggest that a "sex quiz" does little to advance the cause of preventing sexual assault. Whether students are frequently, infrequently, or at all sexually active, universities should ensure that they are educated about the dangers of sexual assault and how to protect themselves. Equally as important is guaranteeing that university administrations will conform to Title IX regulations and maintain a safe environment for victims of sexual assault.
Last year, Harvard University was heavily criticized for its poor handling of sexual assault cases (particularly for allowing the perpetrator in one of the cases to return to campus). Eventually, however, the controversy led to a university-wide reform of its policy against sexual harassment. Although the new policy still has plenty of room for improvement, schools like Clemson would do well to follow in Harvard's example and focus on protecting sexual assault victims rather than quizzing students on their number of sexual partners.
Although Clemson's intentions, therefore, were admirable, there are better ways to ensure the safety of their campus. Many students, and even faculty, on university campuses are uninformed as to what constitutes sexual assault or what to do in the case that a student has been sexually assaulted. More troubling still, even if faculty and administrations are informed, last year's Harvard scandal proves that we cannot assume those in power will always do their best to protect students. As Clemson continues to re-evaluate its Title IX training program, therefore, I encourage the university to keep in mind that statistics about a student body's sexual activity means nothing without ensuing action.