Sex education allows campus betterment, studies show

McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

By Rewon Shimray | Staff Writer

The rhetoric behind the social movement #MeToo began with survivors of sexual violence stepping out and talking about their experiences.

Dr. Christopher Pieper, Baylor senior lecturer of sociology, has a study focus on social movements. Pieper said movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up, which is “thought of as a solution-based, action-oriented next step in the #Metoo movement,” according to Time, would not have risen to their current level of visibility had it not been for the sexual assault scandals seen at universities.

“One of the things we’ve been noticing from the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up, and even now with the student walkout, is that the first step in social change … is always waking the population to the existence of a problem,” Pieper said.

Open conversations about sex, how it affects health and the prevalence of sexual assault, continue to be developed on Baylor’s campus.

“The awareness is finally cracking through, and it had to happen in a very awful way with a lot of victims and a lot of public notoriety. But sometimes that’s what it takes to foment the beginnings of change,” Pieper said. “I think what’s been done on this campus in the last year or so has been quick, large in scale and appropriate. I don’t think it’s adequate yet, but it’s far better than what most universities have done in response to such scandals.”

In 2016, Baylor was rated No. 132 out of 140 schools in a study conducted by Sperling’s Best Places measuring the sexual health resources and information available to students in U.S. colleges. Factors included in the case were the quality of sexual health content on its website, contraceptive and condom availability, HIV and STI testing on-site and sexual health education programs.

Baylor released a document describing its completion of 105 recommendations from Pepper Hamilton, the law firm that investigated its sexual assault cases, on Nov. 3, 2017. Within the document, Baylor reported making changes to its Counseling Center as well as to Title IX offices and training.

Baylor released a document describing its completion of 105 recommendations from Pepper Hamilton, the law firm that investigated its sexual assault cases, on Nov. 3, 2017. Within the document, Baylor reported making changes to its Counseling Center as well as to Title IX offices and training.

According to the report, the Counseling Center’s clinical full-time employees have more than doubled in size from 10.5 to 22.5, and the entire staff is required to complete training on how to treat students after a sexual assault or other traumatic event. The Counseling Center website has a page for Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence that provides suggestions for survivors, parents and friends. The webpage also include links to Baylor’s Title IX page and Advocacy Center website.

In regard to the Title IX Office, the report said Baylor invested $4 million into hiring new staff and making the office more accessible. Members of Baylor faculty that were in positions of “senior leadership” also received training, according to the report.

The Health Center conducts well-woman exams, conducts Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) waived labs to test for infections as well as other tests performed at an outside laboratory and offers a handout with referrals to counseling and the Title IX office, according to Baylor health center medical director Dr. Sharon Stern. Stern also said that she and director of wellness Meg Patterson are available to present sex education-related presentations to groups on request. Stern said the clinic also provides numerous brochures and pamphlets relating to this issue.

The report also said Baylor sponsored a weekly lecture series, “Let’s Talk About It,” to discuss sexual harassment and violence through the lens of religion, science and society during April 2017. April is national sexual assault awareness and prevention month.

While Baylor’s lectures series dedicated the month to initiating conversations about sex, McKinney senior Katie Mendez said the same open attitude toward the topic was not found in her classes.

“In the classes that I’ve had outside the [Baylor Interdisciplinary Core], it’s just not a conversation that’s brought up, and when it is, either students kind of giggle their way through it, and it gets shut down, or professors kind of try to move the discussion elsewhere,” Mendez said. “I think the biggest issue is we don’t talk about sex in general. It’s like a taboo topic that we avoid.”

Pieper expressed similar observations about sex education discussions in the classroom.

“The sex education component is often very anatomical. It’s like a science class,” Pieper said.

Pieper said the discussions about sex at Baylor may be limited because of the religious beliefs to which it holds.

“There’s a belief within religious communities that sex can not be talked about in a healthy way. We don’t have any blueprint for how to talk about sex within religious communities,” Pieper said.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s formal statement on education states that “there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility … The freedom of a teacher in a Christian school, college or seminary is limited by the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.”

Kingwood junior Rachel Cooper grew up with conservative Christian beliefs and received abstinence-only sex education.

“Coming into college, I came into contact with a lot more people who didn’t believe the things that I did and were making choices that I wasn’t making, but uninformed choices,” Cooper said.

She said she did not question the principle of abstinence during high school, because she was surrounded by a community that was not having sex.

“In the church … there’s almost this attitude that women don’t have a sex drive. They just say having sex outside of marriage is completely wrong. But when people do have sex, they don’t have any understanding of the consequences of having sex,” Cooper said. “Whether the church admits it or not, or whether Baylor admits it, or public schools in Texas admit it, sex is going to happen. People have a sex drive and are going to have sex. Not preparing them for that reality causes so much harm.”

According to ThoughtCo, an online education-related content provider, Texas is one of 11 states that has no mandate on sex or HIV education. Of those 11 states, five rank among the highest teenage birth rates, Texas being No. 4.

The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine conducted a study on abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) government programs in September 2017. Due to the rising age of marriage, “increasingly fewer adolescents wait until marriage to initiate sex,” the study found.

“While theoretically fully protective, abstinence intentions often fail, as abstinence is not maintained. AOUM programs are not effective in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse or changing other behaviors. Conversely, many comprehensive sexuality education programs successfully delay initiation of sexual intercourse and reduce sexual risk behaviors,” The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine reported.

Pieper said that Christian theology provides solid biblical reasons to believe that conversations about sex and sexual violence can fall within the Christian concern.

“There is a way to think about rape as a kind of theft, as a kind of stealing of one’s dignity and of one’s power. There’s a commandment against this in the Ten Commandments, which is shared by the entire Judaic-Christian tradition. So, if we’re saying that rape isn’t a Christian issue, we’re in violation of the very foundations of our very moral understandings,” Pieper said.

Mendez said she does not think Baylor should at all have to compromise its beliefs on premarital sex in order to facilitate open discussions about sex-related health concerns and resources.

“We still need to be aware that there are students who aren’t Christian in the school, and that they are still as much deserving of those services that we provide for sexual assault victims as someone who is Christian and was a virgin before they were raped,” Mendez said.

Approximately 27 percent of undergraduate students are affiliated with the Baptist denomination, according to Baylor’s Profile of Undergraduate Students for Fall 2016 and Fall 2017.

“Just because we’re at Baylor, that doesn’t mean everyone is adhering to waiting until marriage to have sex,” Cooper said.

Cooper said there is a link between being uneducated on sexual health and being susceptible to sexual violence.

“If you were not educated about having sex, you probably weren’t educated about consent either. From either perspective, from someone who doesn’t know to ask for consent or doesn’t know what consent looks like– and from someone who doesn’t know that they are entitled to that,” Cooper said.

Besides educational resources, Pieper identified the best way to resolve and lower sexual violence statistics as “ongoing, required conversations amongst men about sexual norms and sexual responsibility,” because of the associations between sex and masculinity that encourage rape culture.

“Not talking about it has never been a solution, however it is an enormous habit and even a tradition as part of some broader moral cultures that we can talk about,” Pieper said.

Cooper, Mendez and Pieper all recommended attending or seeking out seminars or panels about sex and relationships.

Cooper specifically said there was a need for accessible sex education for members of the LGBTQ community.

“STDs are something you can get just as easily from having gay sex and lesbian sex as having heterosexual sex. I have friends in the LGBTQIA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual] community that are horribly afraid to talk to anyone about that,” Cooper said. “They’re afraid because they think they will face Baylor consequences from that. And I don’t think, as a Christian community, we should be hateful to any member.”

The 2017-2018 Title IX Online Course for Students provided no examples of LGBTQ relationships.

“I think the discrepancies in knowledge is a social justice problem,” Cooper said.

Pieper said the responsibility falls on campuses to be more involved, because of the increased likelihood of sexual assault in college.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, college-aged students (18-24 years old) are 78 percent more likely to be a victim of rape or sexual assault of non-students of the same age if they are male and 20 percent less likely if they are female.

“Every university has an obligation to protect its students, and federal law is very clear about what [the university] must do when allegations are made,” Pieper said. “This is not a matter of choice. This is a matter of requirement.”

Stern said the best available resource for sexual assault victims is the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children, which provides a 24-hour Crisis Hotline, case management and counseling.

Trained advocates are on-call 24/7 for anyone that shows up to the hospital or calls the hotline. Waco senior and Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children advocate Mendez said she asks the person what happened, who did it, where they were, if weapons were used and what they remember. She acts as a witness during sexual assault exams when collecting evidence from the rape kit.

“They don’t have to open a case to do the rape kit. They have the option of doing a regular rape kit. The state saves it for a year, so if within the year, they decide they do want to open a case, the evidence is still there,” Mendez said.

Mendez said the best chance of finding an STD and its source as well as gathering DNA evidence for a case is for the person to not shower and immediately go to the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children after the event.

Federal law requires schools that receive federal funding, including Baylor, to report campus crime through the Clery Act and Title IX.

“Many of the laws we need are already on the books, they’re just not adequately used,” Pieper said. “I think the It’s On Us campaign is a great start. It needs a lot more resources, and it needs a lot longer period of time for it to work. It needs to be a constant conversational topic.”

Peiper said he is optimistic with such an unprecedented national visibility surrounding sexual harassment.

“From the university standpoint, it will be tempting, as years go and the intensity of the scandal wanes, to just completely forget about it and move on to something else, Pieper said. “What institutions can do that individuals can not is keep programs going for long, long periods of time,” Pieper said.