UT’s ‘Sex Week’ focuses on consent

The University of Tennessee’s annual “Sex Week” gets underway Monday with organizers stressing lessons of consent, respect and boundaries, reports the News Sentinel.

But those lessons about sexual assault prevention get left out when critics talk about the event, which kicks off its fourth year this week, said Elizabeth Stanfield, a co-chair of the event.

“They really miss the point about consent and communication,” she said.

Stanfield and Colleen Ryan, a junior, are leading the student-run event that runs Monday to Friday and is organized by the student group Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee.

The pair said they joined the student group during the 2013-14 school year to help plan the second year of Sex Week because they had friends who were sexually assaulted. At the time, SEAT was the only student group pushing the conversation about sexual assault, they said.

Sex Week started four years ago and faced strong opposition and criticism from state lawmakers in its first two years. After a compromise on funding, the event has stayed an annual one on campus, helping spread the conversation about sexual assault. That conversation has come into the spotlight after a federal Title IX lawsuit against UT that alleges the campus has a “hostile sexual environment” was filed in February.

“We’ve been telling administrators for four years that something needs to change,” Stanfield said, noting she has seen the university do more to prevent sexual assault and promote consent.

More people are noticing there’s a need for sexual assault prevention on campus, and that’s exciting for the group, Ryan said.

“It’s our view that the only way to prevent sexual assault is to talk about it, and you can’t talk about it without talking about sex,” Ryan said.

She said education, like Sex Week, can help define healthy relationships and the difference between a sexual assault and a bad sexual encounter. Ryan said Sex Week organizers revamped the event’s sexual assault roundtable with the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee to be more focused on victims and their supporters.

The event continues to cover a variety of topics from religion and sexuality to abstinence and virginity to “50 Shades of Orange,” an event planned due to the popularity of the book and film “50 Shades of Grey.”

Regardless of the topic, Stanfield said boundaries and respect are in every conversation. Consent is not boring, so it shouldn’t be presented that way, she said.