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Sex/Ed Conference: Understanding the link between education and sex

The conference featured speakers who were academics, activists, artists, and performers, from India and abroad.

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20 November, 2017 | 7 min read

By Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality

The Sex/Ed conference, jointly organised by the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality at Ashoka University and the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, was held on November 18 and 19 at Bikaner House in New Delhi. This was the first conference in India to explicitly bring together issues of sex in relation to matters of education. What is the historical link between these two subjects? How do we deal with sex in education? Why do we have laws to address sexual harassment in educational institutions? Has sex historically been linked with education? If so, then in what forms?

The conference featured speakers who were academics, activists, artists, and performers, from India and abroad. Through a variety of panel sessions and performances, the conference addressed some of the complex issues and questions related to sex and education as well as the relationship between the two. Sex/Ed opened on November 18 with a discussion that laid out the relationship among sex, education, history and culture. Professor Madhavi Menon from Ashoka University, Professor Harleen Singh from Brandeis University, Professor Shohini Ghosh from Jamia Millia Islamia, and social activist and writer Syeda Hameed, discussed the socio-political, literary and cultural frameworks within which sex and education have interacted in India over the last several hundred years.

The first keynote was delivered by Professor Steven Angelides of La Trobe University, Australia. Angelides spoke about the politics of teacher-student sexual relationships that is dramatically reshaping relations between sex and education in the contemporary moment. The Sound of Silence, a documentary by Bina Paul that examines gender issues on college campuses in Kerala.

Conference attendees were enthralled by Queen Size, a exploration of intimacy between two men and described as a choreographic response to the oppressions of Section 377.

The second day began with the keynote address by Professor Dionne P. Stephens of Florida International University addressed the multiple ways in which race, education, and sexuality intersect in the United States. It was was followed by a panel discussion on Sex/Ed/Work, in which we heard both from people for whom sex is work, and transgendered people who have to negotiate their workplace carefully in relation to their sex.

The last session of the day was Sex/Ed/Popular Culture, which featured two sets of conversations, one with writer-painter-graphic novelist Amruta Patil, and the other with film-maker Onir, on the role of sex in mass culture.

The conference concluded with a performance conceptualised and choreographed by Justin McCarthy called Manovilaasam: Appropriate/Inappropriate, which combined Bharatanatyam, contemporary dance, Carnatic music, and rock drums, to enact the legends of Krishna.  The finale was poetry session featuring Akhil Katyal, Aditi Angiras, Octavio R. Gonzalez, and three of Ashoka University’s most compelling undergraduate student poets: Saranya Subramanian, Payal Nagpal, and Ira Sen.

The Sex/Ed conference was the first event to formally showcase the collaboration between Ashoka’s Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality and the Wellesley Centers for Women. The proceedings of the conference will soon be published online at the CSGS website.

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