“Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby,” Sexual Health and Penn State
Is Penn State Doing Enough? A Deliberation Nation Event.
Post Deliberation Report.
Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University, 3/16/2017
We present this report in an effort to put the findings gleaned from our Deliberation Nation event to practical and progressive use. The conclusions presented are drawn from the research our team conducted over a month-long period as well as the incredibly insightful and detailed commentary provided by those who attended our public deliberation event.
We hope that you, the faculty senate, will heed the suggestions and data included in our report and use our findings to make curricular or organizational changes that would make our campus a sexually safer place.
Jim Davidson, Anthony Colucci, Aaron Hochberg, Marlisa Shaw, Mary Reid, Peyton Woodward, Ryan Cornell, Sofie Lufty, Stefania Tomich, Julia Beerman, Katheryn Facelle and Evan Schuval.
Deliberation Notes—Attendance, Topics Discussed, etc.
Our town-hall style deliberation took place in State College’s municipal building on March 1. The audience was composed of 17 people, and included students, a university police officer and an academic adviser among others. Further information regarding our research, the assignment and the event itself can be found via the following links:
Issue Guide/Research Compilation
Conclusions: Recurring Themes, Important Comments, and Popular Solutions
Our audience provided several thoughtful ideas regarding the relationship between the State College community, the University and sexual assault. They agreed that Penn State has a great deal of influence over the sexual climate of the State College area, and noted that if an incident involving sexual assault occurs anywhere in the community, it is automatically assumed to be connected with the University. It was also suggested that the constant bombardment of sexual assault-related announcements has desensitized the community to the issue of sexual safety—many now view such crimes as a commonality instead of a tragic problem. And from a broader perspective, some community members in attendance said that they consider Penn State to have a significant problem with rape culture and are not optimistic that sex-related problems will be resolved soon.
The discussion also provided some useful insight regarding the sexual health, knowledge and activism of current Penn State students. Audience feedback and research came to the startling conclusion that many college students—at Penn State and across the country—lack a severe amount of knowledge when it comes to sexual health. Our discussion traced this lack of knowledge to a lack of overall awareness—the audience was adamant that most students simply tune out alerts such as timely warnings and sex-related educational messages because they receive them so often. Stand for State, a sexual safety-promoting activist group composed of students, is visible but foreign to most students according to our own experience and that of the audience. Despite Stand for State’s consistent action, many students are completely unaware of what the organization actually stands for. And most alarmingly, audience and team members agreed that for many students, the definitions of rape, sexual assault and legal terms relating to sexual relations are still unclear, causing many cases of sexual misconduct to go unreported and to continue occurring.
Finally, and most importantly, the deliberation seemed to answer our guiding question—whether Penn State does enough to educate its students on sexual health and maintain their sexual safety. Unfortunately, the answer to this question seemed to be ‘no.’ A common sentiment among all of those involved in the deliberation was that Penn State is attempting to educate its students on sexual health and safety, but their efforts are not effective in engaging students and forcing them to retain the information provided to them. For example, Penn State’s AWARE module, which educates incoming freshman on sexual safety on campus, was considered by many to be a waste of time and unhelpful. Many students noted that they barely retained the information included in the module, and one sophomore student forgot that she had completed it altogether. In short, the deliberation showed the need for a change in Penn State’s sexual education model. 
Through our work as a group and conversation with the audience, we were able to come up with several possible solutions to the sexual health. Some suggested that action taken by other American universities would be effective in solving Penn State’s sex-related problems. For example, some audience members suggested that Penn State launch an app that has been successful in combating sexual assault at Dartmouth College. But overall, the most popular possibility was the addition of an in-person, sexual education seminar class to the freshman curriculum. Audience and team members alike concluded that an actual class would be effective in educating new students on sexual health and safety.
Proposed Solution: A Skeletal Plan for a Sexual Education Course
Our deliberation led us to the conclusion that sexual education in the college curriculum should exist and should be directed towards freshman. We realize, however, that an entirely new course added to the already packed schedule of any student would be an unrealistic proposal. Instead, we suggest that an already required freshman course be modified to include sexual education-related topics.
Enter CAS 100 and RCL 137—two versions of a similar English course framework. Each freshman is required to take one of these year-long courses, which focus on building communicative skills such as persuasive writing and public speaking by encouraging discourse on relevant social and political issues. We propose that these courses be modified to focus their assignments around issues regarding modern sexual relations, and believe that this would be feasible for several reasons.
There is a multitude of literature, news-style writing, nonfiction and historical texts, and multimedia content relating to modern sexual issues including, for example, rape and sexual harassment. Instructors would have no trouble finding every genre of example text needed to properly teach their class.
The basic framework of these classes would remain the same, and can be easily modified to fit this new model. For example, instead of asking students to write a ‘paradigm shift paper’ (RCL) on a topic of their choosing, require them to pick from a list of sexual relations-related topics. An example of an effective approach to this assignment: chart the changing definition of the term rape, and explain why this definition has expanded over the last 20 years. These assignments may even boost student performance, given the general human fascination by sex.
Finally, these new-look, sex-related classes would require no extra resources. The curriculum of each would focus only on broad, societal sex-related issues, making an English professor the perfect overseer of the class and eliminating the hassle of bringing new faculty into the university. The textbooks for these classes, or at least those for RCL—we assume those that are required for CAS are similar—instruct students on styles of writing or speaking and grammar, not particular world-related content. Supplemental material regarding real world issues can be found online or elsewhere, as they currently are provided in the course.
Even if the course is feasible, it must also be effective. We believe that this concept can solve the aforementioned problems for several reasons.
By exposing students to the written experiences of sexual assault victims and others who have faced challenges with sexual health and safety, the university can build an important sense of empathy between students that would likely cause them to be more careful in situations containing possible sexual danger.
A more concrete aspect of this approach is the ability for educators to explicitly outline the definition of important sex-related terms in a familiar classroom setting—many of which are foreign to modern students as our deliberation exhibited.
One of the most prevalent causes of sexual problems is poor communication. If a student learns to write and speak effectively about sex-related issues with their peers as an audience, we believe that they will then find it easier to communicate effectively about sex when it matters most—with a future partner or in a dangerous situation, for example.
We hope that the administration will consider implementing this proposal for the health and safety of the next generation of Penn State students.
 Also, it was mentioned by an audience member that transfer students are sometimes not able to receive timely warnings and are not required to complete the SAFE module, which is a problem that needs to be addressed.
 See issue guide for more information regarding successful initiatives at other schools, including the aforementioned app.
(Works cited included in Issue guide/research packet)