Ought we discuss sexual violence in higher ed?

From a reader:

I came across [trigger warning] this article about the motivations of perpetrators of sexual assault. It highlights the importance of talking about sex and sexual violence with young people.

This brought up an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: do we have an obligation to intentionally foster discussions about sex and sexual violence in philosophy courses? It seems this might be the case particularly in courses where these discussions easily relate to the course material (as is the case in many introductory ethics courses.)  As authority figures we have the opportunity to normalize and validate the importance of the discussion of sex and sexual violence. This is particularly salient given that these issues are rarely discussed in other academic settings and that college students inhabit a culture where they often have to navigate these complicated issues.

I’m curious what other people think about this.

4 thoughts on “Ought we discuss sexual violence in higher ed?

  1. I should add to my own post: It’s too large a question to discuss our obligations to address sex and also sex-related violence. But regarding violence, in particular, I do feel such an obligation. I regularly assign Susan Brison’s book, _Aftermath_, for this reason.

  2. I’ve certainly wanted to talk about sexual violence in the classes I’ve taught since it’s an important and relevant topic. It also seems like a good way of trying to chip away at rape culture. I’ve been worried though about how to broach it in the classroom without causing distress for any student who’s experienced sexual violence. (Announce it beforehand and let students skip if they want? Make it an optional topic?)

  3. In my grade 12 course, I have a unit on sex, love and friendship. I give them a run-down of what we’ll talk about on which days so people can choose not to attend – typically I get more students than are actually enrolled on those days, which speaks to the necessity for this kind of facilitated discussion.

    For sexual violence, I typically get it all rolling by drawing a continuum on the board with rape and confinement on the one end and “Hello” on the other and have students fill in degrees of interactions to determine exactly what is acceptable, and what is sexual harassment and assault. It’s usually a lively discussion with much disagreement, but much learning taking place. Then we can take that and get into necessary and sufficient conditions in order to define our terms.

  4. I think it’s an incredibly important topic, and sadly, one all too relevant to the lives of the young women, and some men, in our classrooms. The NYT has an interesting article on the prevalence of sexual violence in gaming:


    In addition to Susan Brison’s work, I use Anne Cahill, Claudia Card, bell hooks, and Sandra Bartky, among others. My women students have plenty of their own experiences to talk about, and many men are surprised at how small the world can be for women — so I think it definitely enlightens and instructs to make this a topic in a philosophy course. I do tell students they need not be present or can excuse themselves from the discussion.

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