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Controversy Continues for Sex Week and True Love Week at Yale University

Sex Week at Yale University is a biennial event that takes place on Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut, just before Valentine’s Day. According to Yale’s Sex Week website, the student-run event “seeks to cultivate a forum for engaging and meaningful discussions about sexuality, intimacy, and relationships . . . to promote students’ agency in making educated decisions and to foster a sexual environment that is respectful, well-informed, and intellectually engaged.”[1]
The week-long event has frequently faced criticism from a variety of different sources: students, student organizations, university officials, and organizations unaffiliated with the university. Most recently, the newly created Advisory Committee on Campus Climate suggested banning Sex Week altogether due to a Title IX lawsuit filed against the university in 2011.[2] Yale University president Richard Levin created the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate in 2011 to ensure “the climate at Yale to be free of sexual harassment and misconduct of any kind.”[3] The student organization, Undergraduates for a Better Yale College (UBYC), also began a campaign to get Sex Week banned. Both the committee and the UBYC worry that Sex Week has created an overbearing sexual culture for students.[4] President Levin decided not to cancel the event this year but instead to challenge the student creators of Sex Week to implement “a new version of the event that would warrant its continued role on campus.”[5]
The Title IX lawsuit was filed in March of 2011 and directed at the university for failing “to properly address public and private events of sexual harassment and assault.”[6] Students who filed the lawsuit felt that university officials had failed to properly address issues of sexual harassment and would like to see harsher punishment for those who violate any of these laws.[7] Thus, university officials became worried that hosting another Sex Week would enhance the negative sexual image recently attributed to the university.
In response to Levin’s request and the issues surrounding the lawsuit, the executive board of Sex Week created a very diverse 10-day event made up of speakers, presentations, and sexually transmitted disease testing. Sex Week’s executive director Allie Bauer said the group “strove to make sure that this year’s event focused more on education than entertainment and that the schedule included diverse viewpoints.”[8] Some of the titles of the individual events held included “Immigrant Sex Lives, Practices, and Erotic Imaginations”; “Your Body Is a Wonderland: Body Image and Sexuality at Yale”; “Contraception 101 with”; and “Sex Trafficking Abroad.” A full list of events is available on the Sex Week website.
The UBYC agreed that the Title IX lawsuit gave “evidence that the Yale community suffers from a dysfunctional attitude towards human sexuality.”[9] As a result, UBYC introduced a counter event to Sex Week called True Love Week, which also took place February 5–14. This 10-day event incorporated the UBYC’s goal to challenge the sexual culture on Yale’s campus by opposing “campus attitudes and events that offer a degrading and trivializing vision of sexuality. . . .”[10]
Sex Week’s most notable event was the keynote speaker Ann Olivarius, who differed from the UBYC’s approach to Sex Week. Olivarius, a Yale graduate and one of the first women to win a Rhodes Scholarship, is best known on Yale’s campus for being a lead undergraduate plaintiff in the case Alexander v. Yale in 1977.[11] In the case, the university was indicted with “[f]ailure to combat sexual harassment of female students and its refusal to institute mechanisms and procedures to address complaints and make investigations of such harassment interferes with the educational process and denies equal opportunity in education.”[12] The group of students involved in the lawsuit requested that the university form a central grievance mechanism through which students could report sexual harassment.
After the most recent Title IX lawsuit in 2011, Olivarius asked Yale to be a leader and “embrace the complaint as an opportunity to become a pioneer for preventative programming and resources.”[13] The executive board of Sex Week believed selecting Olivarius as the keynote speaker would help reiterate the speaker’s wish: to see Yale as a leader in protecting sexual rights and preventing sexual violence. During her speech, Olivarius noted that Yale lacked an effective grievance procedure for victims of sexual harassment but the university also lacked “any mechanism for talking about the fun parts of sexuality.”[14] Olivarius also cited that “sexual education and discourse” serve “as a means to prevent sexual violence.”[15]

[1] “Our Mission,” Sex Week, (2012), accessed 8 March 2012 <>.

[2] Nicole Allan, “Yale Alumni Respond to Title IX Complaint,” Yale Alumni Magazine,January–February 2012, accessed 15 February 2012, <>.

[3] “Yale University Appoints Advisory Committee on Campus Climate,” Yale News, (15 April 2011), accessed 8 March 2012 <>.

[4] “Why Say ‘No’ to Sex Week?” Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, (2012), accessed 15 February 2012, <>.

[5] Allan, “Yale Alumni Respond to Title IX Complaint.”

[6] Christina Huffington, “Yale Students File Title IX Complaint against University,” Yale Herald,21 March 2011, accessed 16 February 2012, <>.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Tom Owen, “‘Sex Week’ Attracts Controversy,” The Dartmouth,15 February 2012, accessed 15 February 2012 <>.

[9] “Student Petitions,” Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, (2012), accessed 16 February 2012, <>.

[10] “About UBYC,” Undergraduates for a Better Yale College, (2012), accessed 15 February 2012, <>.

[11] “Calendar,” Sex Week, (2012), accessed February 15 2012, <>.

[12] Ann Olivarius, “Title IX: Taking Yale to Court,” New Journal,18 April 2011, accessed 16 February 2012, <>.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Sophie Gould, “Olivarius Discusses Sexuality,” Yale Daily News,6 February 2012, accessed 21 February 2012, <>.

[15] “News,” Sex Week, (18 January 2012), accessed 16 February 2012, <>.