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Clemson University Suspends Inquiry into Students’ Sex Lives

How many times have you had sex in the last three months? Just kidding—The Torch doesn’t want to know. But Clemson University did. Campus Reform’s Kaitlyn Schallhorn reported last night that the public South Carolina institution asked its students for this deeply personal information and other statistics of their sex lives as part of a mandatory—yes, mandatory—“Title IX and Campus SaVE Act education program” run through a third-party site. Understandably, students speaking to Campus Reform felt the details of their sex lives were none of Clemson’s business.

Schallhorn reports that Clemson attempted to justify its intrusion in an email sent to a student:

“The questions are a part of the training so that you may get a sense of the behaviors and experiences of other Clemson students,” an email from the university to one student, obtained by Campus Reform, said. “Often, students have an exaggerated perception of the behaviors of their peers, so these questions are in hopes of clarifying those misconceptions.”

The program, Clemson claims, “will provide [students] with useful information regarding sexual violence and relationships. The course promotes a healthier and safer campus environment.”

Those claims were scant comfort to Clemson students who were understandably put off by the program’s invasive questions, but nonetheless ordered by Clemson to answer them. Another email from the institution noted that “[f]ailing to complete the requirement will be a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, General Student Regulation 8: Failure to Comply with Official Request.”

After what should have been entirely unsurprising negative press, Clemson quickly suspended the program and apologized “for any concern and inconvenience this has caused.” But this stunning invasion of students’ privacy never should have happened in the first place. If even a single student was coerced into divulging the details of his or her sex life under threat of punishment, that’s one too many.

Campus Reform writes that the program “was purchased by Clemson through CampusClarity, ‘[a] Title IX and Campus SaVE Act education program that combines sexual assault and substance abuse prevention in a comprehensive online training program.’” Might other colleges be asking their students these same questions? Did nobody stop for a minute and think about the ramifications of and reaction to a government agency (Clemson) ordering its students to divulge to both it and to some third-party vendor how often they engage in sexual activity?

Colleges and universities have serious obligations under Title IX, but there must be some limit to how intrusive universities are willing to be in the name of fulfilling those obligations. We’ve seen that institutions are all too comfortable disregarding the due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct, and we hope severe invasions of privacy like this are not the next trend, but we’re worried they might be. After all, surveys like this one are going to become more common now that the White House has recommended campus climate surveys. And CampusClarity advertises itself as a way for colleges to fulfill their statutory obligation to provide “primary prevention and awareness programs” under the Campus SaVE Act, billing their program as “address[ing] the Campus SaVE Act’s requirements for student training no matter where you’re located, with custom course versions for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” CampusClarity even owns the website

And as strange as may seem for students to be asked how many different people they’ve had sex with in the last three months—and the survey explicitly notes that this question is “including oral”—longer-running Torch readers might not be so shocked. Back in 2007, the University of Delaware (UD) implemented a mandatory program through which students in UD’s residence halls were asked when they discovered their sexual identity, among other personal questions. (For more about the program, including its goals of thought reform, check out FIRE’s video on the case.) After FIRE exposed the program’s shocking violations of UD students’ private consciences, the university eliminated the program.

Students forced to participate in programs or surveys similar to Delaware’s or Clemson’s at their schools should be sure to let FIRE know immediately. Students should not and must not be obligated to put data on their sex lives into a gigantic government database simply as a condition of receiving a college education.

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