Burnett: USC’s consent education misstep reminds us there is progress to be made

Megan Burnett

Just when you think college campuses in the U.S. couldn’t be any more absurd, they surprise you once again. This time, the University of Southern California (USC) is the newest offender.

Over break, I read a column online about how USC is now implementing a mandatory online class, in which the goal is to inform students about sexual consent. This is all well and good. However, the structure of the course and its method of “teaching” absolutely baffles me.

This online course requires students to detail their sexual history, including number of partners, number of times engaged in oral sex and whether the students had used protection. It is unknown who will be able to see this information, or how it would be used in the future.

Students are required to complete the course and fill out the “necessary” information by Feb. 9 or a registration hold will be placed on their accounts and they will not be able to sign up for spring classes.

The university assured students that they would find the class “enjoyable.”

I would rather do just about anything else in the world than divulge my very personal information with university administrators. This class has crossed the line, invading students’ privacy and likely making them feel uncomfortable. Nothing says “higher education” like teaching students about sexual consent by forcing them to reveal this information, backed by a threat of not being able to take spring courses.

The invasion of privacy isn’t even the worst offense here. USC clearly did not take into account the well-being of individuals affected by sexual assault. Considering the high number of college students across the nation that have been victims, it is not kosher to require a sexual history from these individuals. Filling out these forms could be very upsetting for survivors and defeats the whole purpose of the university trying to promote a “safe” environment for students.

While I agree that there needs to be better sex education implemented, even prior to the university level, USC went about this all wrong. This course is inappropriate and in poor taste. Let people’s private business be their own. CSU does a much better job of this, with their CTMO (Consent Turns Me On) program through the Women and Gender Advocacy Center (WGAC). The WGAC is much more approachable, allowing students to learn about consent on their own terms, rather than having a poorly-designed curriculum be shoved down their throats. Still, more could be done, but with a topic as complicated as human sexuality, designing an effective consent education program that doesn’t cross significantly personal lines is not an easy task.

USC has since apologized for the “discomfort” the program has caused for students. The questions requiring the detailed sex history have been removed from the course, although it is still mandatory to complete. Unfortunately, the university has failed to apologize for their lack of common sense.

Collegian Columnist Megan Burnett can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @megsbcollegian.