Provacateurs: Students, Senators All Got What They Wanted—Notoriety and Media Coverage

There are any number of things the UT students who organized Sex Week could have done to minimize the reaction of the state Legislature.

They could have scheduled the event during fall semester, when the Legislature is not in session. They could have given some of the sessions less provocative names. Did they really need giant penis and vagina suits walking around campus?

They didn't do any of these mollifying measures because the in-your-face event is deliberately provocative. They played conservative legislators like a cheap fiddle. They got what they wanted—attention and media coverage. If you recall your younger days, wasn't there a time when you just wanted to challenge authority? Maybe not. But it has not been unheard of on college campuses since the 1960s.

One has to admire Brianna Rader and her cohorts for their political skills and their marketing ability. Have you ever heard of any other student program on the UT-Knoxville campus?

Conservative legislators, like Knoxville's Sen. Stacey Campfield, also got what they wanted. They, too, got attention and media coverage, standing up for "family values" and taking the bold stand in defense of the status quo.

The back and forth between the students and the legislators, with the UT administration caught in between, had the air of kabuki theater. The moves were predictable, the outcome predetermined, and it provided entertainment for some and an opportunity to be outraged by people who enjoy being outraged.

Watching this story unfold I was reminded of a time when I worked in a political campaign and our opponent's headquarters was burglarized and a laptop stolen. Being the dirty dogs they were, the staff hinted darkly that this particular laptop, among all office laptops, had "sensitive" political information on it that might be valuable to the opposition.

Sure enough, a young television reporter showed up at my office and asked me if our campaign knew anything about the missing laptop. I replied that I was outraged and offended that a reporter would ask me such a stupid question. The reporter became upset and shared the info that the news director had told the reporter to ask the question.

Having once been a young and green reporter I offered: "It's your job to ask the question. It's my job to be outraged and offended." The light dawned. (Turned out the laptop was stolen by a homeless man who tried to hock it. The only thing special about it was that it was the closest one to the back door.)

The senior citizens of Tennessee should be able to remember the 1970s when the UT campus was the "streaking capital" of America. People pulled off their clothes and ran up and down the Cumberland Avenue strip. Remember the controversy over bringing LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary to campus to speak?

Sex Week organizers can rightly point to the useful information provided to students on a wide variety of sex education issues. Given the rates of unplanned pregnancies and social diseases in society today, it can only be helpful to get students good information. But it is disingenuous of organizers to point to these beneficial effects and ignore the fact they were deliberately provocative or that they didn't enjoy the prospect of conservative legislators possibly having their heads explode.

If I were one of the organizers, I would asked for an embossed copy of the legislative resolution of condemnation and hang it next to my diploma some day. And the conservative legislators can put their outrage into re-election pamphlets demonstrating to the voters they are looking after the hard-earned money that UT student's parents are being forced to spend on SEX.

The state Senate passed a resolution telling UT to allow parents to "opt out" of student fees used for controversial (i.e. Sex Week) programs. I'm sure the administration will give the resolution the attention it deserves.

Students should have learned a civics lesson along with the sex education. Politicians know you don't vote and thus they can use you as a foil and mess with you with impunity. Because they know you won't do anything about it.