After weeks of meetings at Marquette’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center located in the Alumni Memorial Union, FemSex, a 12-week student workshop focusing on dialogue about female sexuality and reproduction, has moved to an undisclosed location after the university rescinded its initial support for the program in response to complaints from faculty and former students.
The reversal of support for the program has caused a mixed reaction since University President the Rev. Scott Pilarz and Provost John Pauly pulled support for the program last week and forbade the meetings from being held in the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.
The workshop, which meets weekly to discuss subjects such as female health and identity, body image and sexual desire, was co-founded and facilitated by Marquette graduate students Claire Van Fossen and Rachel Bruns. The workshop began with information sessions Jan. 22 and was sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.
Senior Communications Specialist Brian Dorrington said in a statement Monday that university leadership was initially unaware of the specific subject matter being discussed in the workshop.
“The workshop was initially approved by the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center,” the statement reads. “After learning about the contents of the workshop from a student, university leadership reviewed the workshop outline and found that aspects fell outside the center’s stated purpose. Because of this, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center is no longer sponsoring the student-led workshop.”
The FemSex syllabus states that the workshop “provides a safe space for exploration, encourages honest dialogue and facilitates collective learning. It engages and grapples with the social forces that inform individual experiences and seeks to build ally-ship.”
The workshop’s founders said the group is not adverse to Catholic values.
“We do not believe FemSex to be at odds with the mission of Marquette or the charter of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, and we uphold the need for safe student space on campus to seek affirmation of experiences and identities as well as discuss these issues,” Van Fossen and Bruns said in a joint statement.
Susannah Bartlow, director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, said in an email that she was approached by one of the student co-founders in early October and provided support for the students in hope of fostering discussion about sexual health within an appropriate context.
She added that the controversy surrounding FemSex should not distract from the mission of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.
“This is a brief moment in a much longer (and more interesting) process of building a campus resource center,” she said.
Ethan Hollenberger, the former student who emailed university leadership asking for justification about why they sponsored the workshop, said the issue is not whether or not the group can meet, but whether or not the group should have university sponsorship.
“I asked why this was happening, whether the university supported it, and if they do, (to) give a defense for it,” Hollenberger said. “I emailed them on a Sunday, and by Wednesday afternoon, Provost Pauly replied saying they had stopped the sponsorship of it.”
Hollenberger, who writes on a blog for the Young American’s Foundation, a conservative organization which promotes “individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise and traditional values” according to its mission statement, said his emails were sent with a journalistic purpose.
“This isn’t about the students not being able to meet on campus,” Hollenberger said. “It’s about the university endorsing something that not only I, but other students think is controversial.”
Marquette associate political science professor John McAdams wrote about the workshop on his personal blog “Marquette Warrior,” saying the content of the group did not serve its purpose in empowering women in their sexuality.
McAdams cited a writer for the Harvard Crimson in his post as saying, “Empowerment is about making your own choices, not about adhering to the FemSex agenda. I wonder how a class member who made the liberated choice to abstain from sex would be received in this group.”
McAdams added Wednesday in an interview that Marquette should consistently and carefully consider Catholic values when sponsoring controversial programming such as FemSex. He also said that the university is too quick to give into pressure.
“I think Marquette would cave in to the politically correct lobby if they make enough noise, and I think they would cave in to alumni and professors if they make enough noise,” he said. “In terms of crediting Marquette with good judgement, I don’t think either side (of the controversy) would do so.”
He went on to say that the group should be able to meet, just not with university sponsorship.
“If women want to have a feminist ‘hen party’ and talk about sex, that’s their business,” he said. “But the university shouldn’t sponsor it.”
Van Fossen said in a statement that FemSex was meant to foster discussion and support.
“FemSex at Marquette is intended to create space for conversation, engagement and support around issues of sexuality, embodiment and relationship – issues that are core to our humanity, yet too often shamed, silenced or ignored, frequently to the detriment of individuals and communities,” the statement read.
“The mission of FemSex at Marquette does not push an ideology, teach a curriculum, make prescriptions, generalize experiences or advocate a particular philosophy or morality.”