Clemson University suspended a controversial online course this week that was sent out to all students as a mandatory program at the beginning of the school year. The program, created by Campus Clarity for college and universities across the country, was designed to provide comprehensive training on sexual discrimination, harassment and assault, as well as address issues related to drugs and alcohol education. The university adopted the program in an effort to train students in Title IX, the federal law concerning gender discrimination in schools that has made headlines this past year as students have protested the way schools across the country handle cases of sexual assault. But students at the South Carolina school balked at some of the required questions that probed into the students sexual pasts, and the program was suspended Wednesday.
One question asked how many times students had had sex in the past three months and with how many different people. The program also asked students about drinking habits and whether they participated in Greek life or were a member of an athletic team. Students were told the answers would be anonymous but had to log in with their student IDs in order to complete the training.
"It’s not that I have an issue with being trained on Title IX," one Clemson student told the blog Campus Reform. "I have an issue with the personal questions that are asked, and the fact that I’m told it’s anonymous, but it’s clearly linked to my name, and it’s obviously through a third party so not only is my information that I’m going to be filling out—incredibly personal information regarding my sex life that I have issues with speaking about—it’s not only going to the university, it’s going to a third party company that I don’t know."
"Does the university need to know if I had oral or normal sex in the last three months after I’ve been drinking alcohol or using drugs recreationally or if I used a condom during?" another student complained. "They don’t need to know that for a gender equality questionnaire."
The university said it had been assured all information would be kept private and thought gathering anonymous information from students would both help the administration determine how well it was dealing with safety issues and dispel misconceptions about behavior in the student population."Specifically with questions related to alcohol, relationships and sex, [participants] would get real-time feedback about how aggregate peers would respond to similar questions," Shannon Finning, Dean of Students at Clemson University, told TIME. "That really is critical... in terms of breaking down this stereotype or dangerous illusion that students often have that everyone else is doing certain activities."
Research has shown that college students tend to vastly overestimate the number of their peers having casual sex or "hookups," for example. A study at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln found that 90% of college students thought their peers were "hooking up" two or more times per school year, when in reality only 37% of students reported doing so.
Finning believes that seeing how other students responded will help students with making decision making processes. "How does my behavior compare with others? Maybe there are people making good decisions like me. Or, if I'm struggling with a decision, knowing there are others making different decisions, maybe I'll have the courage to make an informed change," she says.
The White House has recently put pressure on college and universities to conduct surveys to better understand how frequently students are experiencing sexual assault. But protests against the program Clemson used calls into question the best way to gather such information while respecting student privacy.
"Our student feedback from our new students who completed this program over the summer—over 6000 of them—was overwhelmingly positive," Finning said.
Finning said Clemson is currently reviewing the program.