Sex on Campus: As Learning Leads to Action

Next week, the ExCollege will be making its decisions regarding which classes will be offered to Tufts students in the fall! Mimi Arbeit went through this process last semester, and before jumping into the classroom, she wrote about what she hoped to bring to her students. Now teaching ‘Sexual Wellness on College Campuses,’ Mimi demonstrates the type of ExCollege instructor dedicated to establishing a vibrant and innovative classroom for her students in order to expand upon their current experiences at Tufts.

Written by Mimi Arbeit, Visiting Lecturer

I’ve wanted to teach at the Experimental College since I first accepted the offer to join the MA/PhD program at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development here at Tufts. And I knew what I wanted to teach, too. I even had the name of my class: Sex on Campus.

I came to Tufts after spending two years as the sole Health teacher at a middle school in Quincy. I loved teaching Health, and I really loved teaching the Sex Ed portions of Health. I loved being the one cool and collected person in the room while explaining the human reproductive system in detail. But I was also keenly aware that there’s a lot that I can cover with college students that I couldn’t cover in that middle school classroom.

Prior to my first job as a middle school Health teacher, I was, in fact, a college student, much like the people taking my class. I was a student on a campus with its own sexual culture that, over the course of four years, I observed and tried to understand. But what helped me most in college both personally and professionally was becoming a sexual health advocate—hearing from, counseling, and teaching my peers about how to engage in safe and fulfilling sexual experiences and relationships while at college.

And that’s exactly what students in my class will learn to do. I’m not an undergrad at Tufts and this isn’t my campus, so I can’t tell you what’s going on or how to understand it. In my class, the students will collaborate with each other to describe the sexual arena at Tufts as they understand and experience it. Then, they will weigh the strengths and limitations of various research and theories that might help explain what is going on and why. Furthermore, throughout the semester each student will work step by step to plan and prepare an advocacy project designed to optimize some aspect of sexual wellness on campus in some specific way.

I can’t wait to see what my students share with each other and how they choose to impact and contribute to their community here at Tufts. I can’t wait to see how much I learn, personally, from teaching the class.

We could even extend our impact beyond ourselves and beyond our campus. Scholars from many disciplines are paying increased attention to the sexual behaviors and attitudes of our nation’s college students, and they are making all sorts of claims. Journalists, activists, psychologists, sociologists, public health researchers, and other scholars argue over whether hooking up is “bad” for young women, whether hookup “culture” contributes to high rates of sexual assault on college campuses, or whether long-term relationships “should” be a priority for college students. What is the value in these arguments? Whose agenda are they actually serving?

I think all of these questions are distractions from real conversations about sexual justice and communal wellbeing. I think that Tufts students—that my students—need to talk back to these scholars and tell them about the complexity of sex, relationships, safety, and decision-making on campus. In order to do that, students need the opportunity to assess the institutional and cultural forces that constrain and facilitate what they want and what they do. And then, together, they can think critically and creatively about how to promote positive possibilities for sex on campus that make room for themselves and others in a multiplicity of ways.

And I consider it a pleasure and an honor for me to be starting that process with them.

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