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Carolina Journal News Reports

Sex Studies a New Minor at UNC-CH

Program director says courses will appeal to “sexual minorities”

May. 12th, 2004
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CHAPEL HILL—This fall the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will offer a new minor program: “sexuality studies.” The program will be offered as an interdisciplinary program, similar to nearly 15 others on campus. Students who complete 12 hours’ worth of courses can receive a minor in sexuality studies.

According to the program’s web site, the program is “designed for students who want to explore the study of sexual/gender identities — such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual.”

Some of the courses being taught in the fall semester include a history course on “the history of sexuality in America” and a political science course on “the politics of sexuality.”

UNC-CH Political Science Professor Pamela Johnston Conover, who will head the sexuality studies program and teach “the politics of sexuality,” says the program will not be limited to gay, lesbian, and bisexual students on campus. Instead, she said, the program would be a way to bring about discussion of sexual minorities’ issues at UNC-CH and in other locations.

“It would certainly be a mistake that only LGBT students take these courses,” Conover said. “They are interested in these courses. Most of these courses have appeal to students who are sexual minorities.”

Conover said the program would be important for those wanting to become activists, lawyers, or doctors. “All of these professions deal with sexual minorities,” Conover said. “There is a tremendous benefit to students who want to minor in these subjects.”

In all, the program comprises 33 courses in sexuality studies. Many are geared specifically to discuss homosexual topics of themes. Others focus on gender issues or women’s issues. More than 20 deal with the broader term of “sexuality.”

Pornography in its various forms is also a topic of interest. For instance, one of the courses offered is “communications 549: sexuality and visual culture.” In that class, taught by Associate Professor of Communications Richard Cante, students will “examine how sexuality has changed through films, video, television, theatre, painting, photography, and other forms of media.” Cante’s “communications 545: pornography, sexuality, and american culture” promises to examine “the social, cultural, legal, historical, ethical, and aesthetic implications of pornography.”

Save for two classes sponsored by the Religion Department, none looks at sexuality issues through a religious perspective. One of those classes, “gender and sexuality in the Western Christian tradition,” will focus on contemporary controversies and the teachings and issues involving gender and sexuality within Christianity. The other course, “gender and sexuality in contemporary Judaism,” looks at the development of gender roles in Judaism.

Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said he was concerned about UNC-CH taking on these courses.

“It is especially troubling that UNC-Chapel Hill seems so intent on affirming and promoting unhealthy, high-risk alternative sexual lifestyle in the wake of investigations, by none other than UNC researchers, exposing what has been referred to as an HIV outbreak among students at North Carolina universities,” Brooks said. “Parents of current and future students should be concerned about the quality of education their children will receive as well as the diminishing value of their own degrees as UNC-CH gains a reputation as a university whose curriculum is inconsistent with traditional family values.”

Advocates of the new minor laud its educational value. One UNC-CH junior, David Barbour, told The Daily Tar Heel that the courses should provide a better understand of homosexual issues on campus.

“In our country, where homosexuality is becoming more visible, I think it is important to find out the struggles [homosexuals] have to go through on a daily basis, like discrimination and what the government is doing,” Barbour said. “[The government] is not dealing with issues in the homosexual community such as AIDS.”

“These areas of scholarship are looking at interesting questions that are not necessarily looked at by other disciplines,” Conover said. “We felt like UNC, because it is a premiere research university, should also have a cause and program that looked at these issues.”

UNC-CH is not alone among universities with a program in sexuality studies. A steadily growing number of universities and colleges across the nation offers some form of sexuality or gender-study programs. Included in that list is Duke University, which has offered a program on sexuality studies since 1994.

Conover said that sexuality programs have been around for much longer than just the last five years.

“If you look around the U.S and universities across the country, for the last 30 years there has been a considerable growth and interest looking at and studying matters of having to do with sexuality,” Conover said. “In this regard, we are simply looking at those national trends.”

In fact, when this program was proposed in 2002, John Younger of Duke University expressed his “fascinat[ion]” in The News & Obsever of Raleigh July 29, 2002, that “UNC has languished until now” in entering the discipline.

“In the last five years, just about every podunk college in the United States has established something” in the field of sexuality studies, Younger said. “It’s very mainstream.”

Shannon Blosser is a contributing writer of Carolina Journal.