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Sex in the classroom

New sex studies program at Carleton is one of the first in Canada

If you delve into Carleton’s course calendar, you’ll find courses such as human sexuality and sociology of gender buried amongst the undergraduate offerings. But starting this year, you won’t have to look so hard for sex and gender courses.

Carleton is one of only a handful of schools to introduce a minor in sexuality studies, which will be offered at the university for the first time in the fall.

The program is unique because students can choose their courses from a variety of disciplines, says Katherine Arnup, the director of the department of Interdisciplinary Studies, where the minor is organized.

“We didn’t want to house it in one department and have it associated with one discipline, for instance women’s studies, like a lot of these programs,” says Arnup.

Students can choose credits from areas such as law, sociology, political science and history to complete the required four credits.

The program also includes two mandatory seminar classes, which offer a more intimate setting for class discussion.

Law professor Doris Buss, who was involved in the creation of the minor, says that an interdisciplinary program makes it easier for students to find the sexuality and gender courses the university already offers.

“Some students found those courses on their own, but they’re all sort of buried away in different departments,” says Buss. “By pulling them together we’re making them more visible.”

Carleton is only the fourth Canadian university to offer a program in sexuality studies.

In 1998, Thomas Waugh, a film professor at Concordia University in Montreal, became the first person to organize a sexuality studies program in Canada.

The push for the minor came from faculty at Concordia who were “pioneers” in the queer movement, Waugh says. But he says the program is more than an academic field.

“I think it has educational aspects and personal aspects. It can help people discover who they are,” says Waugh.

Even if sexuality studies doesn’t present many concrete employment opportunities, it can help students understand the world around them, says Waugh.

Like Concordia, Arnup says the teaching staff at Carleton are what made the program possible.

“It’s an area that Carleton has a lot of strength in in terms of faculty,” says Arnup.

After the school held a one-day conference on sexuality issues in 2004, the push for a new minor picked up steam.

Calls for a sexuality studies program also came from students such as Felix Ng, a former co-ordinator of the GLBTQ Centre at Carleton, says Arnup.

“It was really the students who started looking around and saying ‘I want to study this,'” says Arnup.

The GLBTQ Centre’s current co-ordinator, Michael Wiseman, says that a sexuality studies program will better inform students about queer issues.

“We are the nation’s capital. This is where all our Canadian ideals are supposed to stem from,” says Wiseman. “One of those ideals is acceptance and understanding, and I think that’s what this program is going to offer to a lot of students who would not necessarily have a chance to learn this back in their hometown.”

The minor could be an important outlet and area of study for queer and questioning students, says Buss.

“It’s a safe space to explore these issues within an academic context,” adds Arnup. “I think LGBT issues will be quite central to the courses that we offer.”

Arnup says that more courses are likely to be added to the minor’s roster in the future. The department of Interdisciplinary Studies has already hired one new faculty member who will work on sexuality courses.

If the sexuality studies minor is successful, Arnup says the school would eventually look towards creating a combined major program and programs at the graduate level.