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Principia has always been different from most other institutions of higher education. As a Christian Science school, students are expected to refrain from behavior such as drinking and smoking, which are common at other universities. Despite the Community Commitment pledge that all incoming students sign when they enroll, Principia is aware that these problems still exist on campus. With growing national awareness of sex-oriented issues such as rape, sexual assault, and consent, the question is whether Principia can continue to rely primarily on the Community Commitment or whether the times call for a range of educational programs on the issue.
Should sex education even be offered to college students, let alone Principians? It is easy to assume that students have received some form of sex education in high school. The problem with this assumption, however, lies in the issue that students have had diverse experiences with sex education. There is no standard model. Students come to Principia from a range of countries and cultures.
Many other colleges offer sex education during their freshmen orientations. According to an article in the New York Times, “Over the last ten years, a growing number of colleges have begun organizing week long programs devoted to all things sexual.” These higher education attempts at sexual education consist of a range of efforts, from student-led workshops, programs that cover the basics of safe sex for the first time college student, and lessons to emphasize safety and consent.
Why should this matter to Principia, a college that prescribes abstaining from premarital sex? The first answer to this question is that Principia does anticipate that many students will get married at some point. According to Student Life Program Manager, Josh Sprague, “although Principia did explore sex education for engaged couples several years ago through a partnership with a Planned Parenthood employee, that partnership ended due to the employee’s retirement, and Principia has not continued the program.” Senior Bre Benbenek said that for some, there can be an obvious drawback to the mindset that abstinence-only sex education creates. When individuals have been encouraged to abstain for so long, they may feel uncomfortable actually engaging in sanctioned marital activities.
In addition, abstinence-only education has been proven not to prevent sexual activities. According to the Washington Post, a recent study called the Mathematica Study found that abstinence-only sex education programs did not actually decrease the number of individuals who chose to be sexually active, although it did delay the age at which they became sexually active in some cases.
Because of Principia’s Community Standards policy and its expectations that students refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage, perhaps the most relevant issue that the college may face in considering any kind of sexual education is the issue of consent. As evidenced by multiple recent articles in national publications about alleged rape and consent on university campuses such as UVA and Columbia, it is an issue that affects every school. According to Sprague, the Office of Student Life is very aware of the importance of combatting these problems on campus. For this reason, he said, Student Life included a sexual harassment component in this year’s freshman Dilemmas and Decisions. Also, according to Dean of Students Debra Jones, there are plans to have upperclassmen watch a 30-minute online presentation on sexual harassment. However, as Benbenek pointed out, many students are still unclear regarding the definition of consent, which has more than a purely sexual meaning. Benbenek says, “How hard would it be to have us talk about it during [Dilemmas and Decisions]?”
Although it is fair for Principia to expect students to abide by the Community Commitment they signed when they first applied to the school, it may be unreasonable to assume that at least some of the student body will not join the 50.6 percent of college students who are sexually active, according to a University of Portland study. Principia now has a choice: continue as it always has, or marry all aspects of a modern college student’s sex education, such as consent and contraceptives, with a practical explanation of Principia’s policy and expectations.