A few weeks back I wrote about access to sexual information and how social privilege informs the sexual conversations we can access. The current controversy over OSU, Tristan Taormino and the Modern Sex Conference contains an excellent example of this dynamic in play.
You may have heard the hullabaloo over OSU’s decision to uninvite Tristan Taormino from delivering the Modern Sex Conference keynote speech. In response to public criticism OSU sent out a press release and today their spokesperson, Todd Simmons, commented on the situation in an Examiner article. In that article, part of his defense for the decision rests on the assumption that taxpayer dollars cannot be used to pay “somebody who describes herself as a pornographer”.
The thing is, pornography is not illegal and there is no statute I am aware of in Oregon state law that restricts the use of taxpayer fees in this way. He goes on to say that private universities such as Yale and Harvard had every right to book her because they are using private monies.
Welcome to the privilege of pleasure and sexuality.
This is the same general dynamic in sex education. Any groups using public money or grants (outreach organizations, public schools) restrict their conversations to the most conservative common denominator. Never mind that many OSU students want her to speak. Why should public university students have a choice in their education? That right is apparently reserved for private university students.
The way social hierarchies and privilege play out in every aspect of our lives never fails to amaze me. Private high school students can have unquestioned access to issues about sexual orientation, gender, pleasure and agency while programs in public schools are vulnerable to moral panics and content restrictions. This serves to reinforce a sense of access and privilege in the world.
In a way, I understand why OSU administrators made this decision. Social conservatives don’t usually attack private universities on curricula or education issues. These are institutions for grooming the social elites and their attacks would go nowhere. But a public university is a much easier target to grapple with because of who they serve: the general public, the middle and working class.
At this juncture, I highly doubt they will rescind and reinvite Tristan. The only thing I can hope is the next public university that wrestles with a decision like this will take a chance and defend the intellectual freedom of their student population.