JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. ― Students and administrators on the Johnson City campus of East Tennessee State University are wondering about the impact three days of sex education known as Sex Week may have on the campus.
Although the $9,340 requested by the event’s organizers was denied by the student Senate, the group has achieved more than a quarter of the needed money through online fundraising.
Vice President of Student Affairs Joe Sherlin told The Johnson City Press that reservation forms for Sex Week were filed with the university weeks ago to hold spots for the scheduled programming.
“All of our polices and state laws allow student organizations to hold events on campus as long as reservation forms are filed and procedures are followed.”
Student Sen. Alex Cassell is worried Sex Week events could draw attention from state legislators and hurt the school’s funding. In conferring with two legislators whom he declined to name, Cassell said he was told any such event on campus could trigger new legislation setting up an opt-in, opt-out funding structure for student fees.
“The funding essential from the state would go out the window, and students would have to choose whether to opt-in,” Cassell said. “If they still had the event, if ETSU holds a Sex Week on our campus, they hold the right to force us into that program.”
Earlier this year, the legislature weighed a similar law concerning the University of Tennessee as the campus considered funding its own Sex Week. The bills were pulled when UT announced a voluntary policy allowing students to approve how their fees were spent.
Central to the arguments against the sex-themed programming is the concept that some conservative students may not approve of events like condom scavenger hunts and sex toy demonstrations, and would get no benefit from the portion of their student fees going toward Sex Week.
In the March 25 House Education Subcommittee in which she took her sponsored bill to create an optional student fee funding policy at state colleges off notice, state Rep. Susan Lynn left the door open for the law’s revival.
Neither state Rep. Matthew Hill nor state Sen. Rusty Crowe, the elected representatives of the House and Senate districts containing ETSU, returned multiple calls for comment on the prospects of ETSU’s Sex Week plans. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, an ETSU graduate and a prominent East Tennessee politician, likewise did not respond to telephone requests.
But a legislative funding structure change is broader than Sex Week, Cassell said.
In addition to the student Senate’s discretionary fund, the BUC fund, from which Sex Week organizers made their request, the student government organization also presides over major event funding, like the concerts and comedy shows held each semester and homecoming events.
“I don’t know if a lot of the interest from students for ETSU would still be there if we didn’t have major events,” Cassell said. “All these huge names have come to ETSU, and if we have to go into an opt-in, opt-out structure, we’re probably going to lose all that.”