Free Exchange on Campus blog supports W&M students over Sex Worker Art Show controversy

Another reason why I love the AFT!The AFT is my national union and I love it because it has organized faculty across the country and we’re stronger for it. I love it because it takes academic freedom so seriously. And now I love it because, in showing its support for academic freedom, it actually, on its Free Exchange On Campus blog wrote clearly in support of the effort by students at the College of William and Mary to bring the Sex Worker Art Show to their campus .Here are some of the most important bits the blog post written by Chris Goff, one of the amazing AFT Higher Ed staffers I met recently at a leadership conference:

First the good news – a forum organized by the College of William & Mary’s Women’s Studies department on the upcoming Sex Worker’s Art Show demonstrated the college community’s willingness to engage in a discussion – an at time impassioned discussion – about controversial issues. …

Also, kudos to the Student Assembly for following the letter and spirit of the law and their own governing processes in approving funding for the show. Rather than making a decision based on the content of the show (a decision that would have been unconstitutional), student government members made their funding choices based on a well-defined set of criteria that can be applied regardless of what a particular activity is going to offer. …

Finally, kudos to the student organizers who are bringing the SWAS to campus. The show does promise to be an engaging look at important issues through the lens of sexuality and the sex work industry, mixing performance and monologues to comment on issues of racism, exploitation, and greed. Sure, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but neither are abstract expressionism or Proust. …

Unfortunately, though not entirely unpredictably, he also tells us:

What has become abundantly clear is that the students who have organized the SWAS have – against their will – been drawn in to a political game in which they’ve been reduced to pawns to advance the agendas of others. The decision to allow the show on campus is being used to build a case against renewing the appointment of W&M President Gene Nichol, the build-up to which put the organizers in the uncomfortable position of having to decide to bring the show to campus or protect the College’s administrative leader.

Additionally, the organizers are being subjected to harassment by political leaders who have the means to further intimidate.

There is more. I encourage you to click here to read the whole post.Then, I ask that you write a note to the students organizing the show to offer your encouragement. The student groups sponsoring the show include Voices for Planned Parenthood – voxpp (at) wm (dot) edu – and Lamda Alliance (the LGBT and allies group on campus) – gaystu (at) wm (dot) edu. Tell them you applaud them for their courage in standing up for an important program despite a tremendous amount of opposition.Then drop a note to the college telling them you support their putting on the show. (One easy way to do that is to use this email form and select “W&M News” from the drop down menu of subject options.) Whatever you think about sex work, it is extremely important to support the freedom to explore controversial ideas on college campuses.Last, consider writing a letter to the editor of the The Daily Press , the local paper that’s been covering the controversy. You can also use the “reader feedback” link if you want to send them a less formal comment. Tell them you are proud of W&M for taking on controversial issues and exploring them in innovative ways.If we stop students from exploring controversial ideas on college campuses we are headed down a very dangerous path. Perversely, the ones who would lead us down that path are the very ones who put forward legislation with names like ‘Academic bill of rights’ and ‘Intellectual Diversity In Higher Education Act’.All the more evidence for the urgent need to teach students critical thinking skills! The Sex Worker Art Show is scheduled to be at College of William and Mary on February 4.This post is also published on SexInThePublicSquare.Org — kind of like here, only bigger and better. Come join us!


Filed under censorship, public discourse, sex work

3 responses to “Free Exchange on Campus blog supports W&M students over Sex Worker Art Show controversy

  1. I was reminded by Chris Goff that Free Exchange on Campus is a coalition of 20 organizations, not a product of the AFT alone. Here’s the list of coalition members:

    Chris, thanks for the reminder. Here’s the list of coalition members:

    Free Exchange Coalition Members

    American Association of University Professors
    American Civil Liberties Union
    American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations
    American Federation of Teachers
    American Library Association
    Association of College & Research Libraries
    Campus Progress / Center for American Progress
    Center for Campus Free Speech
    Common Cause
    Democracy Matters
    Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
    Free Press
    National Association of State PIRGs
    National Education Association / NEA Student Program
    National Women’s Studies Association
    National Writers Union
    People for the American Way Foundation / Young People For
    Progressive States Network
    Roosevelt Institution
    United States Student Association
    Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press

    It’s a pretty impressive group!

  2. i went to the SWAS at wm monday evening. to tell the truth, i had expected more excitement all round: i thought i’d be shocked by the show; i thought there would be a huge protest; i thought i’d be on the front lines of social change.

    well, maybe i was…..but the front lines were pretty quiet.

    the show was uneven: it was a cabaret-style performance, and some performers were better than others. the gay sex-worker who opened was very good, as was the asian dominatrix and the ‘st. bridget’ stripper. the former manhattan dance-club worker read a well-written paper, but it felt like part of an academic conference. from the political point of view, the show was excellent; from the theatrical, it was a bit rough. of course if they could get a government grant, they could get professional help with make-up, costumes, & music.

    the protest was very small: only 10 students with placards that had quotations from the bible, the
    students singing quietly in a little penned-off area near the building.

    two stern-looking policemen standing guard had nothing to do.

    the media was everywhere, interviewing very articulate, savvy students as they left the performance.
    well, yes, it wasn’t Bambi; maybe i’m just jaded…

    i was happy to support the SWAS — i liked all the performers — but wish it could have had a bit more polish.

  3. Thanks for the report, Mimi! I have not seen the show recently, but I do recall thinking the “DIY” aspect of it was part of it’s charm, then. Still, I see how an NEA grant would certain be put to good use by the workers who produce the show!

    Thanks especially for the update on the protest. I’m glad — and not terribly surprised — that it was small and uneventful.

    Mostly, though, thanks for being there. I’m sure that interested and supportive audience members were extremely important not just to the performers but to the students who organized the event.