Sexual Culture in the Curriculum
The Sexual Cultures Initiative (SCI) is an effort led by Caleb Elfenbein (Departments of Religious Studies and History) and Carolyn Lewis (Department of History) to broaden the kinds of courses in which Grinnell College students can consider questions of sexual culture. While faculty members are and should be part of policy discussion related to Title IX, the potential for faculty to contribute to campus-wide discussion of sexual culture through work in the classroom is truly profound. The SCI’s working definition of sexual culture is the culture we have surrounding and relating to sexual identities and behaviors. Our norms, our ideals, our practices. What we value. What we encourage. What we condone—whether implicitly or explicitly. Who we include. Who we celebrate. Who we render invisible. Sexual violence is part of our sexual culture; our sexual culture shapes how we talk about, experience, understand, and respond (both officially and unofficially) to sexual violence. So, thinking about sexual culture means thinking about violence and assault. But it also means thinking about behaviors that are not physically violent, too. If we broaden our focus, if we broaden the conversation, then we expand the possibilities for making change.
Our long-term goal is to ensure—without creating any curricular requirements—that every Grinnell College student graduate having had the opportunity to consider the concept of sexual culture. In the shorter term, Lewis and Elfenbein are working to provide faculty with the chance to confront anxieties that often accompany efforts to talk about sexual culture in the classroom, particularly when such discussions stretch teachers beyond core professional competencies. A fundamental premise driving the SCI is that broadening the discussion of sexual culture in the curriculum requires course integrations that grow out of faculty expertise. Thus, with the support of the Office of the President, the Office of the Dean, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion—and in conjunction with multiple campus partners—Elfenbein and Lewis have planned a series of events that seek to empower faculty to create spaces for students to consider sexual culture in a wide variety of ways.