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A Difficult Subject

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    Students in Professor Traci Giuliano's new First-Year Seminar discuss whether they agree or disagree with a statement after reading several papers on the topic.

Students in new First-Year Seminar explore issues related to sexuality  

Growing up in Laredo, Jose Perez said he never talked much about sex – especially with his parents.  

That is changing, however, thanks to his First-Year Seminar at Southwestern.

Perez is one of 16 students taking a new First-Year Seminar offered this year by Traci Giuliano, professor of psychology and holder of the John H. Duncan Chair. The class is titled “Sex Talk: An FYS with Benefits.”  

Giuliano decided to offer the new First-Year Seminar after co-teaching a human sexuality class the past seven summers. “Many students said that class was the most important class they took,” Giuliano said. “They told me they wished they had taken it as first-year students.”  

True to its name, all the students in the new class said they are benefiting from it. They said the nature of the subject material – plus the fact that the class is offered as a Living-Learning Community – has led to instant friendships.  

“We’ve bonded so much,” said pre-med major Nicole Ahearn. “I really feel at home here now.”  

Giuliano said the goal of the course is not to change students’ sexual attitudes or values, but to explore and develop sexual attitudes and values of their own that they are comfortable with. Students have to write weekly reflections on the material covered in class as well as two essays and a research paper on a controversial issue in human sexuality.  

“I’ve enjoyed writing the essays,” said Casey Niblett. “I’ve never had to put my feelings about some of these subjects into words before. This helps you understand your beliefs more.”  

While about half the students in the class said they are planning to major in psychology, many said they took the class because they hoped it would help them in their own relationships. Several said they felt it already had done this.  

“Sex is such an important subject because it touches everyone,” said Kathy Douglas. “We’ve covered topics I would never have heard of before I took this class.”  

While Perez is still not comfortable talking to his parents about sex, he said the class has made him more comfortable talking to people who are gay – something he was never comfortable doing before. Before the class, Perez said he also had never known any people who were transgender. One of the class activities was a panel discussion that featured several transgender individuals. They also had a panel of speakers who were gay, lesbian or bisexual.  

Even Rachel Ehler, a self-admittedly shy person, said she has never felt uncomfortable in the class. “This is the most beneficial FYS,” she said. “I’m thinking more and understanding more.”  

“Sex Talk” also is the theme of Southwestern’s 2013 Brown Symposium, which Giuliano is organizing. That symposium will be held Jan. 28, 2013.

Giuliano said she hopes the symposium will accomplish what she has done with class on a larger scale.  

Giuliano said she plans to continue teaching the FYS even after the Brown Symposium is over. “This is the most fun I’ve had in 19 years of teaching,” she said. “I hope I will be teaching it for a long time.”