Sex and the Classroom
A Nevada community college instructor allegedly created a “sexually hostile class environment” for a student -- by asking for explicit personal information and forcing her to relive past sexual abuse -- which prompted her to file a federal complaint last week.
Western Nevada College student Karen Royce, who is at least 60 years old, enrolled in Tom Kubistant’s fall 2011 human sexuality course with about 30 other students who were mostly high school- and college-age, according to the complaint she filed on June 25 against Kubistant, his supervisor, and the college’s president.
According to the complaint, Kubistant -- who has degrees in philosophy and counseling education -- told students he was a psychologist and private-practice sex therapist and demanded they call him “Dr. Kubistant.” Royce’s complaint alleges that he continuously crossed the boundary of appropriate behavior for an instructor by asking students to divulge their sexual preferences and history.
Kubistant did not respond to an e-mail asking for an interview.
Royce’s lawyer, Ken McKenna, said Royce was worried that the younger students in the course wouldn’t realize the inappropriateness of Kubistant’s behavior since he was the authority figure. “People don’t complain or don’t know it’s inappropriate, because you’ve got 30 people and everyone’s kind of going along with it.”
While questions of inappropriateness in sexuality courses are sometimes hard to solve, as instructors say students have exaggerated what was said in class, Royce saved handouts from the course -- some of which were cited in her complaint and provided to Inside Higher Ed -- to support her allegations.
According to the complaint, Kubistant told students on the first day of class that the course might contain language such as “pussy” or “cocks” that would make students uncomfortable, and he passed out an acknowledgement for students to sign. According to Royce’s complaint, Kubistant never indicated that personal sexual disclosure would feature in the course.
Also during the first class, Kubistant allegedly told students that “he will increase their sexual urges to such a height that they won’t be able to think about anything other than sex.”
According to the complaint, Kubistant assigned a project called “A Sexual Case Study ... You!” which required the students to divulge personal information including past sexual abuse, homosexual behavior and sexual preferences.
Royce, who was abused as a child and terrified of having to discuss this in the final assignment, asked Kubistant for a modified case study assignment. But, according to the complaint, he dismissed her request, saying that because she didn’t feel comfortable with the assignment, she had “sexual issues,” and the project would be cathartic.
McKenna said Kubistant is violating professional psychological and psychiatric standards by asking students for personal sexual examples, which is considered counseling, not teaching. “You can’t just demand somebody reveal their sexual abuse when it could be psychologically harming, and it needs to be dealt with in a clinical setting instead of a classroom setting,” he said. “Just because you’re a teacher and you think you can order that is dangerous.”
Royce also felt that some of the course handouts were inappropriate. One that was provided to Inside Higher Ed, called “Prayers from the Sexes,” describes a woman’s prayer as for “a man who is not a creep, one who is handsome, smart and strong” and “one who loves to listen all night long,” while the man’s prayer is for “a deaf-mute nymphomaniac with huge boobs.”
A statement from the college said Kubistant provides a variety of handouts as teaching tools to offer context to the class, including information about communication, types and levels of sexual harassment and how to respond to it, and jokes. According to the statement, “students who have taken the class say the course teaches them about morality, relationships, and consequences."
Another handout provided to Inside Higher Ed details three “secret and personal” journal entry assignments. The handout states that Kubistant will not read the entries because they are so personal, but he will scan them to make sure students covered all the topics, which include describing body image and turn-ons. The third journal question on the handout is, “Your orgasms: Draw them!" For this entry, students were asked to describe different types of orgasms and describe how they sexually stimulate themselves, specifically referring to certain parts of the female anatomy.
The Complaint Process
According to the complaint, Royce e-mailed Kubistant repeatedly to ask for a copy of the acknowledgement she signed that first class, and he responded to her e-mails on October 1, saying that he would bring a copy to the next class. He also said he thought that the class was not appropriate for her, and that he didn’t think she was able to fully commit to the course experience.
Also on October 1, Royce e-mailed college administrators complaining about the alleged discrimination, harassment and hostility in the course. She was referred to the college’s legal counsel, who dismissed her accusations, saying she agreed to whatever treatment she was receiving by signing the acknowledgement at the beginning of the course. Royce withdrew from the course by October 11.
According to a statement from Western Nevada College, the college initiated an investigation after it received Royce’s complaint. The investigator reviewed the course description, syllabus, assignments and the acknowledgement students signed, along with evaluations from students who were taking the course and had taken the course in the past six years.
The college’s investigator concluded that since the course was an elective and all students were informed about the nature of course material and had signed a waiver, there was no evidence of unwelcome sexual harassment.
Also in October, Royce filed a complaint in early October with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, alleging that the college discriminated against her on the basis of sex by subjecting her to sexual harassment. But a few months later, on January 25, the department informed her that it would take no further action and defer to the college’s decision -- which had dismissed her claims as lacking merit.
Kristen Schilt, chair of the American Sociological Association Section on Sexualities and an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, said instructors teaching material like this human sexuality course should be very clear at the beginning of the course about what will be covered. She said since the students were all asked to sign a waiver, they had to acknowledge that there was sexually graphic content.
She also said that most instructors of courses like this would offer alternative assignments just in case, adding that she thinks instructors who teach sexuality courses are vulnerable, especially as public colleges are coming under fire from taxpayers scrutinizing what their money is funding. “I think certainly sociologists who teach sexuality try very much to balance providing very needed information to their students with making sure people are comfortable in the classroom."