2018 – UoGSHIFT

Out In The Academy - SHIFT 2018


In some ways, sex, sexualities and sexual health (abbreviated here as sex~) are the elephant in our class rooms.  This presentation aims at acknowledging the presence of various matters sexual, across numerous disciplines and their curricula, and looking at ways of talking about sex~, dealing with, challenging, and sharing ideas on this ‘elephant in the room’.  By so doing, hopefully, more cases of sexual problems or ill-health can be proactively lessened, with the end-result being more Greenwich graduates (and staff) who are happier beings in and of themselves, confident as citizens in a sexually aware, changing and ever-challenging world.

This podcast (audio) presentation & Prezi were recorded at the University of Greenwich #SHIFT2018 conference, January 2018.  The thoughts and ideas build on my earlier presentation on this topic, at the Annual Symposium of the Association of National Teaching Fellows 2016, and form the basis of a forthcoming article I am currently working on.

Click the SHIFT image for the podcast

SHIFT on vimeo

The SHIFT Conference is the University of Greenwich’s annual conference for teaching, learning and assessment. #UOGSHIFT

Presentation proposal (full)

Customising and building on the success of a presentation I gave to a restricted audience of national teaching leaders elsewhere [to be revealed if this application is successful], the original session was entitled “Everything you wanted to know about sex*” with the sub-title “* but were afraid to ask”.  It explored ways of raising the profile, or ‘mainstreaming’, matters concerning sex, sexualities and sexual health, to normalise these topics across the academy through many of its various curricula.

Why do a workshop on this theme?  The answer is because sex is everywhere!  It is one of the most talked about, analysed, studied, mis / understood, natural / controversial, and sometimes all-consuming topics on the minds of so many individuals, through every echelon and strata of our wider societies and diverse cultures in which we live.  Sex is in the media and advertising; it is forever on television, in drama, in documentaries, through to pornography on the internet.  Sex also happens a lot for people in big organisations, such as in our various university communities.  It is one of the key taboos across the diverse cultures represented at this University, hidden, invisibilised and often ‘swept under the carpet’.

Younger students, in particular, fall within the demographic of young people in general, a specific group in the UK disproportionately affected by some of the statistics for poor sexual health.   Anecdotal and small researched evidence in the UK also points to some students selling sex (commercial sex work), to cope with the hardships and financial burdens caused by their student loans and debt.  Definitions of poor sexual health range from condomless sexual encounters which result in shared infections and unplanned conceptions; abortion; sexual regret; unconsented sex, violence and rape, and being bullied because of one’s gender or orientation or sexual life-ways.   And yet many universities readily admit that they do not always know how to ‘deal’ with sex~.

Sometimes, therefore, universities are challenged to ‘sit up’ and take notice, to implement a course of action, or manage a situation when things go wrong.  As witness to this, I was a reviewer of the new UK-Australia Epigeum collaboration, an on-line course, supported by this University, for enabling and ‘up-skilling’ staff “managing disclosure of sexual violence and rape” across our respective national higher education sectors.

On a positive note, universities are constantly striving to raise awareness of the need to celebrate genders and sexual diversity, whilst simultaneously combatting all forms of gender or sexuality-based violence, prejudice, inequality and discrimination.  At Greenwich, we also advance cultural competency in staff through diversity champions and programmes such as Athena SWAN, Stonewall and the Epigeum course and training.

But bringing sex Out, In the curriculum?  Yes!  My intention with this conference workshop is to enable participants from a wide range of cross-university disciplines, to explore a hidden curriculum – of sex, sexualities and sexual health – that could be brought out, or mainstreamed, not hidden away out of sight and, crucially, out of mind.

Some tiny examples out-in the curriculum might include:

  • geography courses, dealing with incidents of various sexual matters in populations and places – anything from the social construction of ‘teenage pregnancy’ in the West, to forced child marriages in the USA and the Asia; Female Genital Cutting / Mutilation; population studies and the reproductive rights [sic] of women;
  • history, religious and cultural studies: getting to grips with gender power dynamics and imbalance; the cultural stories and their moral implications;
  • IT and computing science: acknowledging the great, but often hidden, contribution made be people whose sexual orientation or gender identity spurred them on to study, despite threats to life and limb; tackling the gender-divide in STEMM subjects;
  • research studies and methodologies: exploring research implications and outcomes of biological sex, sexual orientations, gender identities and diverse life-ways;
  • education and counselling programmes: aiming to enable and empower ‘fully human, fully alive’ citizens for the modern world;
  • war and national conflict studies: on the ways sexual oppression, torture and sexual violence are used as instruments of war, colonialism and the subjugation of peoples and cultures.

There are so many more examples of courses, subjects, disciplines and curricula where aspects of sex, sexualities or sexual health – life-affirming and positive, as well as futile and destructive – are hidden away or omitted from the curriculum.

I postulate here that the more sex, sexualities and sexual health are identified and brought out across the academy (not just in specific programmes), and in as many curricula as possible, the more these topics will be ‘normalised’ in ways which can enable our community of learners (staff, students and support workers) to talk more openly and honestly, without fear of pre-judgements or discrimination, living safer and happier lives.

In some ways, sex, sexualities and sexual health are the elephant in the class room.  By acknowledging their presence, and looking at ways of talking about, dealing with, challenging, and sharing ideas on this elephant in the room, hopefully more cases of sexual problems or ill-health can be proactively lessened, with the end-result being more Greenwich graduates (and staff) with attributes making them happier beings, in and of themselves, confident as citizens in a sexually aware, changing and ever-challenging world.