Brianna Rader and Jacob Clark are the co-chairs and founders of SEAT (Sexual Empowerment & Awareness at Tennessee), organizing the Sex Week at University of Tennessee last spring that controversially had its school funding removed at the 11th hour. The inaugural Sex Week Fall Preview occurs Oct. 8 and 9.
What is this Fall Preview?
Its goal is to engage new students on our campus early. We will be previewing several general topics that will be covered in more detail during our bigger Sex Week event in March. The Falling Into Your Sexuality panel, for example, will have students, religious figures, academics, and health professionals and take anonymous text-in questions from the audience.
Are you expecting riotous controversy again this year?
I expect some amount of controversy again, but the university, SEAT, Jacob and I, the media and the public will be more equipped to deal with it this year.
Have the funding arrangements changed from last year?
Fall Preview is fairly cheap to organize, and we were able to use a small amount of private money we already raised to organize it and order the T-shirts. Funding for the spring is unclear. SEAT has been advised to pursue the same approved channels for funding: student fees, university grants, and departmental funding. We've already received several pledges, but the UT System has a committee meeting to decide how university departments and units can allocate funds. No new policies have been made, but we suspect a decision to be made soon.
What was the most popular event last year?
The drag show. We'll definitely repeat it. Sex in the Dark was another popular program—it's about peer-to-peer learning in the privacy and comfort of the dark. Health professionals will be on hand to provide more information or correct inaccurate information. Glow sticks are used to recognize who is raising their hand. We're going to have programing on pleasure and religion again. We're doing RENT instead of Spring Awakening this year and planning to bring in a panel of the AIDS quilt, too.
Is there still time for more ideas before the spring?
Of course! We take any and all suggestions. Our program is largely planned, but we're very flexible. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to make sure all of the community's needs are addressed.
What was the toughest part about last year's event?
Facing the backlash from the university, the public, students, and even peers and friends in some cases. The work that was done from May 2012-March 2013 was easy in comparison. It was a very stressful two weeks leading up to the event, and I don't mean to sound dramatic, but those couple of weeks were life-changing. We were told we would lose our funding on the Wednesday before Spring Break in the late afternoon, and we worked that whole night trying to figure out what to do. I went to bed at 3 a.m. and at 6 a.m. got up to go buy spray paint, and from then until midnight it was non-stop media, including doing the Bill O'Reilly show. He was not really in favor of the event…. We were put down on Wednesday and on Thursday all these people rallied behind us. It felt great. It was very powerful, because we'd kind of been attacked—and it wasn't just me and Jacob arguing, the whole community was having this conversation.
Will it be easier this year?
Of course. Everything is easier the second time you do something. Even if it's just tying your shoes. We have a larger vocabulary and have learned great negotiating skills. We also have many wonderful connections and supporters that make our jobs much easier. We just sent thank-yous to about 400 donors from last year.
Who would you like to see participate?
Undergraduate students are our main target demographic. I'd like to see the students who don't usually attend programming events and the students who have never had the opportunity to discuss sexuality, gender, and relationships openly in a safe place.
Are all of the participants sexually active?
No, of course not! Our programming is for everyone regardless of gender, orientation, or sexual lifestyle. Our events cover topics of abstinence and virginity, as well as orgasms and STI prevention.
What's the SW stand on promiscuity?
If the decisions are safe and consensual, then Sex Week would support the individual in their sexual decisions. We believe each student should have a comprehensive education and all the information available to her so that she can make her own decisions, whether that be to engage in hook-up culture or wait until marriage.
Did you have sympathy for those who wanted to take away the funding?
Sympathy? I don't think so. Now, can I see their logic and perspective? Of course. I don't share an understanding or common feeling with their perspective though. But I don't hold grudges. In this work, it's important to move on as there are always new challenges.
For more information or to order T-shirts: sexweekut.org/swag/