I think it’s safe to say that most students don’t pay very close attention to the emails received from the Colgate Administration. Between Campus Distributions, Career Services and the Dean of whatever year experience you happen to find yourself in at the moment, inboxes fill up very quickly. Add clubs, religious services, professors and campus communication in general, and it’s no wonder that Rob & Jenny used bigger email storage capacities as one of their campaign platforms. With all this crowding, sometimes emails that seem to be standard Colgate issues slip through the proverbial cracks. You know, like last minute lecture announcements, construction notifications and, of course, study breaks.
Just in case you weren’t paying attention last week, Wednesday morning saw the arrival of the most scandalous Colgate Event advertisement I have seen so far. “Let’s Talk Dirty, the Sex Ed. Your Parents Never Wanted You To Go To” was a Study Break organized by OUS CLTR and LGBTQ for Wednesday, September 19 at 5:30 p.m. When I opened the email, the picture was taking too much time to load, so I clicked on to the next item in my inbox after reading the title. I could not attend the event because of Wednesday evening meeting obligations, so I didn’t think it was a big deal anyway. Later that night, a friend asked me if I’d seen the invite. She also said that it shocked her.
I had to investigate.
After digging the email out of my deleted items folder and allowing the image to load, I understood what she was talking about. I also understood why a follow-up to the invitational email was sent out the next morning. The advertisement very prominently featured an artist’s model apparently receiving oral sex from a blonde female doll, maybe not Barbie brand, but decidedly female — and topless. Talk about creating buzz.
While the simulation did not involve actual people, the implied explicit content was borderline obscene and clearly intended to be provocative. The talk itself theoretically had arguable merit, because frank and educational discussions about sex are worthwhile endeavors. But advertising in such a vulgar manner almost seems to undermine any kind of higher intention. Do college students really need the lure of flouting parental authority and the titillation of soft-core doll pornography to have engaging, honest conversations about sex? It’s a fairly offensive assumption, if that’s what the underlying implications of the ad are. I wish I’d been at the talk, just to hear what other students had to say about this particular issue.
The follow-up email from Emily Blake mentioned the creation of a discussion board on Blackboard for further discourse on the subject. Blake asked what we thought was appropriate, why or why not the image was offensive and how we might have reacted differently had a same-sex couple been portrayed. Given that the annual poster sale did not even stock Tanya Chalkin’s famous photograph “Kiss” because of Colgate’s semi-conservative campus status, I would be very, very surprised to see an on-campus group use same-sex sexual content equal to the level portrayed in this Study Break ad. That Chalkin print visually is much more sexually tame than, say, Bertram Bahner’s “Passion”, which was offered at the sale. Both pictures display a kiss and states of partial undress; arguably the principle difference between the two images is merely the type of couple presented.
As for that controversial ad, I cannot deny that it provoked some interesting results; discussions were definitely started, whether students attended the event or not. Maybe the next time another sex-talk study break is held, the hosting groups will decide to challenge the campus views of acceptable sexual iconography even further.
In the meantime, I’ll be paying a little closer attention to my email.