‘Sexual Citizens’ opens a conversation about sex, power and assault on campus

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Sarah Willen, University of Connecticut associate professor and director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the UConn speaking at the virtual event. Photo courtesy of Ian Ward.

The Dodd Human Rights Impact and the Research Program on Global Health & Human Rights at the Human Rights Institute hosted a webinar yesterday on Zoom. The event titled “Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus” was moderated by the University of Connecticut associate professor and director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights Sarah Willen.  

Vice Provost and professor Jeffrey Shoulson was also in attendance during the discussion and offered a few words before the event started. 

“As anyone who has spent time in the world of higher education can surly attest, the issues surrounding sexual assault are among the most pressing and seemingly intractable college campuses,” Shoulson said. 

The featured speakers were Jennifer S. Hirsch, sociomedical sciences professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Shamus Khan, professor of sociology at Columbia University. The two co-wrote the book that the discussion was based on. 

Jennifer Hirsch, sociomedical sciences professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, speaking at the virtual event. Photo courtesy of Ian Ward.

“‘Sexual Citizens’ draws upon the ethnographic portion of a larger project and that ethnography is something that Jennifer [Hirsch] and I co-lead,” Khan said. 

Hirsch and Khan spoke about the process that went into writing the book which included both quantitative and qualitative portions of research. 

Shamus Khan, professor of sociology, speaking at the virtual event. Photo courtesy of Ian Ward.

During the quantitative portion of the study 2,500 students were randomly selected and 420 of them were followed for 60 days. Information that was gathered during that time included the student’s mood, socialization and sexual activity.  

The qualitative portion of the research had Hirsch and Khan lead focus groups. During these focus groups, around 200 students were observed on how they spoke to each other about sex and sexuality. 

Hirsch responded to the topic of educating young people about sex and intimate life. 

“I think that we underplay our leverage in not sharing that with them directly,” Hirsch said. 

Students were allowed to ask questions at the discussion. One student asked if the researchers had made any separation between assault and harassment in their book, to which Hirsch responded that they only looked at sexual assault, not sexual harassment. 

Another student asked whether the researchers knew of any reasons as to why members of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to be victims of sexual assault compared to the general population. 

“There is no answer because sexual assault is not one thing,” responded Hirsch. She went on to mention how she and Khan are working on two papers related to the issue of sexual assault in the LGBTQIA+ community. 

“Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power and Assault on Campus,” which was released on Jan. 14, 2020, is available through retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at your local library in hardcover. A paperback version is expected to be released on Jan. 26, 2021. 

If you would like to report an instance of sexual assault on campus, you can call UConn Student Health Services at (860) 486-4700. You can also contact the UConn Women’s Center at (860) 486-4738. If you are off campus but would still like to report or talk about a sexual assault, the number for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network is (800) 656-4673.  

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