Instructor: Rebecca Chapman, phD
Office: 137 Buttrick hall
Office Hours: Monday from 12:00-1:00, Thursday from 11:00-1:00, and by appointment

Course Description  *  Goals  *  Grading  *  Policies  *  Campus Resources


Here’s a deeply alarming conclusion released last month by a group of bipartisan senators who drafted the Campus Sexual Assault bill: if you are a young woman who goes to college, you are more likely to be sexually assaulted than if you didn’t. Those who sponsor the bill back their conclusion with statistics released by the recent White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which was spurred on by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigation of over sixty colleges and universities, Vanderbilt included, for the ways they handled sexual assault cases on campus. Which is to say, there’s a crisis in higher education, and it’s not immediately clear to legislative bodies how to address it. As scholars, it’s our job to ask what exactly is going on and how we got to this point. When you want change, you must take stock of your situation. That’s what we’ll do in this class.

Welcome to WGS 160: Sex and Society. In this course we’ll work to develop a critical awareness of the historical, cultural, and social contexts of sexual diversity, discrimination, and sexual violence, while paying close attention to the centrality of sexuality to identity. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, we’ll also explore how systems of oppression such as heterosexism, racism, classism, and nationalism/Westernism mutually construct one another. Some of the questions we’ll raise include: What counts as sex? What types of sex are considered socially acceptable, and who gets to engage in them? How do these considerations change across cultures, histories, and geographies? What are the differences among consent, coercion, and assault? What do we mean when we talk about “rape culture”? And what will take to make campuses safe for students today?

As we all come to the course with strong ideas and beliefs, the subject matter can be personally as well as intellectually challenging. Some of what you will learn might be shocking, surprising, triggering, or make you angry. Please use these challenging moments to learn from class materials and each other, and take these lessons with you on your future endeavors.

Note on course content:

In this course we’ll discuss a variety of sexually explicit materials (language and imagery), some of which are controversial. Our readings and discussions will provide you the opportunity to develop a language for and comfort level with discussing a full range of sexual topics in the classroom in a respectful and articulate way. As with any serious scholarly endeavor, the point of our inquiry is critical understanding. No one will be expected to reveal or discuss her/hir/his own sexual experiences, preferences, or desires. You will be expected to participate in our class discussions in a way that is respectful of others. If you do not feel comfortable hearing about, viewing, and discussing sex and sexualities in a frank & respectful way, please reconsider your intention to take the course.



By the end of the course, students should be able to critically interrogate sexual desires, practices, and identities as socially constructed (across time, place, and other culturally significant axes), hierarchically structured (through inequalities in every major institution), and contested (via movement-counter-movement dynamics and personalized political resistance). More specifically, students should be able to understand, provide concrete examples, and critically analyze:

  • relations of power that shape and constitute spheres of sexual activity and identification;
  • main currents of debate and political struggle around sexual rights and sexual expression;
  • approaches to sexuality in terms of their personal repercussions (for one’s own subjectivity or self-understanding) and political implications (given the dominant or hegemonic frames of meaning and the balance of power in a particular sociopolitical context);
  • ways that sexual hierarchies are created and maintained discursively (through ways of thinking and speaking that render alternative frames of meaning either nonsensical or unimaginable) and structurally (via relatively stable patterns of behavior and interaction) at multiple levels: micro (interpersonal), meso (organizational), and macro (institutional);
  • how sexual hierarchies are contested and transformed through movements and counter-movements and via personalized political resistance.



* Kathleen A. Bogle, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus
* L. James, 50 Shades of Grey
* Steven Seidman, Nancy Fischer, and Chet Meeks, eds., Introducing New Sexualities Studies (2nd edition)
* Steven Seidman, The Social Construction of Sexuality


Participation                                                15%  (150 points)
Concept Analysis                                        20%  (200)
Engaging Assignments                               25%   (250)
OpEd Post                                                  15%  (150)
Campus-Community Connection Project     5%   (50)
Final Project                                                20%   (200)



Trigger Warning:
At times this semester we will be discussing events and topics that may be disturbing, even traumatizing, to some students. If you ever feel the need to step outside during one of these discussions, either for a short time or for the rest of the class session, you may always do so without academic penalty. (You will, however, be responsible for any material you miss. If you do leave the room for a significant time, please make arrangements to get notes from another student or see me individually.) If you ever wish to discuss your personal reactions to this material, either with the class or with me afterwards, I welcome such discussion as an appropriate part of our coursework.

Office Hours:
You are always welcome to visit me during my office hours (Mondays from 12:00-1:00 and Thursdays 11:00-1:00pm). I will also offer occasional virtual office hours as needed. If you can’t make my scheduled office hours, please feel free to email me with your questions (if they are answerable over email) or to set up another time.

Late Assignments:
Complete all work on time. “On time” means at the beginning of the class period on the particular due date. Due dates are final and non-negotiable. Exceptions will only be granted in extreme circumstances. All due dates will be posted on our course blog on the assignments page. All assigned work must be completed in order to pass the class.

Academic Honesty:
Academic integrity is essential to a positive teaching and learning environment. All students enrolled in University courses are expected to complete coursework responsibilities with fairness and honesty, and to adhere to the Honor Code. Failure to do so by seeking unfair advantage over others or misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own, can result in disciplinary action by the Honor Council. For more detailed information regarding the Undergraduate Honor Council and Academic Integrity violations, please visit the Undergraduate Honor Council’s website at:

Approach to Class:
For the duration of the semester this class is a community. Our class is a space for intellectual exploration and expression. Many of the topics we discuss are emotionally charged. Pay attention to what your personal reactions are and be sensitive to yourself and your classmates. A diversity of opinions contributes to an intellectually challenging classroom environment. However, opinions that are blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, or otherwise problematic will be challenged, and I will encourage you to explore and develop your understandings of power-and-privilege dynamics in the classroom and within larger society. The success of the class as a whole depends on each person supporting, encouraging, and respecting other people in the class. Continuing discussion outside of class is highly encouraged, but please be mindful of the privacy of your peers.

Trigger Warning:
We will discuss potentially sensitive topics during every class. Please see me immediately if you feel that you will have difficulties attending class or completing the assignments. It is your responsibility to notify me if you become triggered or overly upset by the class readings, films, and discussions.

Class Etiquette–RESPECT:
I expect that your behavior in class be respectful. Learning about diverse experiences is central to this course, so it is of the utmost importance that you respect your classmates’ experiences, differences, and opinions. In order for us to learn from each other, we have to allow each other to make mistakes and to offer unpopular positions for debate. This is a college classroom and as such, I expect students to behave as adults. Students who are disrespectful to their classmates or the instructor will be asked to leave class and will be marked absent until arrangements are made with the instructor to return to class and will result in your participation credit lowering.  

If you learn best by taking notes or reading on an electronic device, please feel free to bring your tablet or laptop to class; cell phones, however, are prohibited in class, unless you have an emergency, in which case please notify your instructor that you need to leave your phone out and on silent. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT TEXT IN CLASS. SERIOUSLY. All texting devices should be placed in your bag for the duration of the class.   Please note that that texting, excessive talking, or other disruptive behavior is not only disrespectful to me, it is also disrespectful to the people around you. Your participation grade will be affected and lowered by these types of behaviors.



Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center
Leads co-curricular initiative related to women’s and gender issues, creating innovative opportunities to make the VU community safe, more inclusive and equitable; raises awareness about the ways gender shapes and is shaped by our lived experiences.

Project Safe
Project Safe is committed to preventing all types of power-based personal violence (sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, and identity-based targeting), helping those affected by power-based personal violence, answering questions, and more.

VU’s Personal Empowerment through Self-Awareness module features videos that deal frankly with power-based personal violence (intimate partner violence, sexual assault, identity-based targeting, and bullying.

Vanderbilt Feminists (Vady Fems)
Open to all students concerned with women’s issues on campus and promoting equality between genders.

Office for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Life
A cultural center and place of affirmation for individuals of all identities, and a resource for information and support about gender and sexuality.

International Students & Scholars Services
Fosters the education and development of non-immigrant students and scholars to enable them to achieve their academic and professional goals and objectives. ISSS provides advice, counseling, and advocacy regarding immigration, cross-cultural, and personal matters.

Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center
It is a Gathering Place:  a home away from home for students who study in the BCC; gather there for meetings, and learn about African and African American culture through its programs.

Office of International Affairs & Advocacy
The IA&A supports students in their personal and intellectual development to prepare them to become culturally and civically proficient leaders in an increasingly diverse world. Provides resources, advocacy and programming that enable students to develop skills to effect purposeful change in their communities.

Psychological & Counseling Center (PCC)
Reading and study skills support; learning differences/ADHD services; therapy and psychiatric services; alcohol, drug, and other dependency services.

Writing Studio
Open to all members of the VU community, the Studio provides opportunities to receive constructive feedback from trained consultants and to develop strategies for all stages of the writing process.

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