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SU Treasury funds four porn stars for sex week, TED conference at meeting

Davis Staedtler | Flickr Creative Commons
A sign advertises TEDxSanAntonio, an independently organized TED event.

The meeting may have opened with a student appeal for a TED conference, but sex week appeals dominated Tuesday’s Student Union Treasury meeting.

Treasury funded about $15,000 to students hoping to bring Sasha Grey, Tori Black, James Deen and Lance Hart, four porn stars, to campus for a panel discussion about the adult film industry and sexual health and wellness as the keynote event in Sex Week this spring in a narrow 9-8 decision.

They also allocated $14,000 for an independent TED event, TEDxWUSTL, in a 14-2 vote and rejected an Alternative Lifestyle Association appeal to put on kink workshops during the February event.

Porn star James Deen has recently been active in the public sphere with his opposition to Measure B, a California requirement that porn performers must wear condoms in all scenes filmed in Los Angeles. Sasha Grey retired from the adult film industry last year at the age of 23.

Kate Cygan, junior and Sex Week chair on the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), emphasized the different perspectives each porn star would offer on the panel.

“If you bring just Tori Black, she’s mainstream porn. You also don’t get the aspect of breadth from having both men and women to attract a wider audience,” Cygan said.

Jacob Walker, senior and treasury representative, expressed major support for the panel.

“[The porn stars] all bring very different perspectives. They [SHAC] expect 400 people, and I’m very confident in that number. Even if it were four porn stars nobody had ever heard of, people would show up…we’re here to fund things that students want to see,” Walker said.

Treasury debated whether to fund all four performers or a subset, especially considering travel and lodging was not included in this appeal.

“I would prefer to have all four speakers because we underestimate the power of branding,” senior and Treasury representative Michael Rudolph said. “If you were to stick Sasha Grey and Tori Black on a poster, I know a lot of people would show up.”

Brian Baker, junior and SHAC Sex Week committee member, suggested the event was key to cap off a unique University tradition since replicated at Harvard and Yale.

“Sex Week was one of the first of its kind. It has since inspired others at other schools to have their own events,” Baker said.

The first appeal at Tuesday’s meeting was for a TEDxWUSTL conference that looks to host three nationally-renowned speakers in addition to some professors, students and St. Louis natives. The group said they were trying to bring Steve Wozniak of Apple, David Sedaris of NPR and Salman Khan of Khan Academy, but that the efforts were in their infancy and could not move forward without a guaranteed conference.

Independent TED conferences are posted to the official TED website, which has an extensive online following.

The TED initiative, which recently reached one billion page views worldwide, promises “ideas worth spreading” in the form of short speeches given by any speaker with an interesting idea.

TEDx places a hard limit of 100 students allowed to attend the event, but that cap may be raised in future years after the organizers prove their ability to hold successful events at the University. Each speaker is limited to 18 minutes at the microphone, ensuring variety across the three hours.

Elliot Louthen, sophomore and president of TEDxWUSTL, emphasized that the high initial costs could be the beginning of a new University tradition.

“This is an investment moving forward. This event might seem expensive…but the fact of the matter is if we put the money in now, we can lower that cost moving forward, and this will ensure the longevity of TEDxWUSTL,” Louthen said.

Junior and Treasury representative Greg Porter expressed concern about funding based on the conference’s growth potential.

“I don’t like assuming things will happen next year or the year after. I don’t doubt the event itself being good, I just don’t want to put up money now if I don’t know what the future will be like,” Porter said.

Junior and Treasury rep. Michael Cohen supported the allocation decision.

“We don’t have enough events on campus that generate buzz. We should not in any way compromise this event. The ‘value to students’ idea needs to be thought about in a long-term sense,” Cohen said.

Logistics pending, about half of the conference cost will go to an outside company to edit and process professional quality videos for each talk. The videos will be posted on the official TED website as well as a site created for TEDxWUSTL.

Junior and TEDxWUSTL production chair Andrew Kamel hopes the recordings will help the group attain TED’s approval, allowing the University’s conference to expand and grow.

As of Tuesday, the group said that the University had not dedicated funding to the initiative.

“I think that if we’re going to let 100 people see this it’s at a good price, but if the school sees a lot of value in professional recording, they should chip in for that,” junior and treasury representative Jacob Trunsky, said.

Note: This article originally began, “Treasury funded about $15,000 for Sasha Grey, Tori Black, James Deen and Lance Hart, four porn stars, to have a panel discussion about the adult film industry and sexual health and wellness as the keynote event in Sex Week this spring in a narrow 9-8 decision” but was amended to clarify that the adult actors have not confirmed participation in the conference.

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  • Sarah says:

    The porn industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and I think that monetary value shows its a large part of american sexual culture, and yet it is not talked about. Many WGSS classes here talk about the notion of public sex, and how it is shunned and silenced in American society, and yet many people consume these articles of public sex (for reading: The Trouble with Normal by Warner). This is apart of our sex culture that needs to be talked about, and perhaps its not because of the stigma and hateful words that are attached to it. The inability to talk about this form of sex may even reflect our inability to communicate with our own partners, as we are taught in our society to not talk about sex.

    Its important to remember that these “porn people” are real people. We also do not want to name people’s experiences. To name one person’s fetish as outlandish or disgusting, or their sexual practices (whether it is public or private for example) for that matter may not be the most sex-positive statement. I do however, think that the porn industry can be homophobic towards gay males. I know that the committee is planning on getting representatives from pride, ala, core, and other groups on campus to help formulate questions for the panel and I hope that comes up.

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  • jasons says:

    As a gay man, I find it offensive that SU Treasurey is funding porn performers for Sex Week. Porn is NOT about sex. Porn is about prostitution, not sex.

    Also, there is no such thing as a porn “star”. Stars twinkle in the sky and are something to look up to. Performers who get paid to have sex – including violent sex where women get spat on and choked – is not something I’d look up to.

    Don’t forget that porn is very homophobic towards male-male sexuality. It segregates male-male sex into the “gay” category. Female-female sexuality is included in the “straight” category, no doubt to titillate sleazy straight guys. I have no respect for these women who perform lesbian acts for the benefit of sleazy straight guys. They are appealing to sexist and homophobic men. They are appalling, disgusting women.

    Kate Cygan needs to seriously re-think her support for these porn people.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Jasons:
      While I see and hear your feelings towards pornography and pornographic actors (I will refrain from calling them stars for now), I don’t quite agree. I don’t want to slander you or your position, but I would like to maybe encourage you to look at this with a more open mind.

      Indeed, porn is not about prostitution, and even then, is prostitution really so awful? Yes, the circumstances around it seem to be (at least to us) rather horrible, but we can’t simply judge it based on our preconceived notions. I know of plenty of people who stand by the legalization of prostitution and what that entails. It’s certainly not always a bad thing!

      But back to my original point, porn is not prostitution. I encourage you to look into the industry that you so deprecate, because if you do, you will see that those who work in the (professional) porn industry have the utmost control over themselves, their bodies, who they work with, and the conditions that they work under, among other things. It isn’t people “whoring” themselves for money, whatever that may mean, but rather, it is people who employ sex as a means of a profession, and that is perfectly viable.

      I would have to disagree about your point for them not being “stars,” not because they are the zenith of our civilization (because I don’t think those people really exist), but because it’s simply a word. Look at movie “stars.” They don’t “twinkle in the sky,” and yet we still call them stars. Look at the anti-semitic remarks made by Mel Gibson, or the radical drug binges of Charlie Sheen. They certainly don’t twinkle. And please consider that in the professional industry, “violent” sex is something that women understand and agree to do. You might be shocked to consider that the pornography industry is female-dominated, insofar as they call the shots. That may offend you as a gay man, but I hope it at least changes your perspective a little. Also, choking is a rather standard fetish…

      In regards to the homophobia of pornography, I would say that this is also somewhat untrue. Though I completely agree that the market is saturated with “straight” porn, I wouldn’t say that this is due to homophobia. In fact, consider the notion that homophobia would only serve to ostracize a very large demographic of consumers. If nothing else, the porn industry wants to make money; why would they want to chase away profits?

      I also understand that female-female porn is often called “straight” porn, but consider the audience that the industry is mainly catering towards. This audience is mostly straight men, and as such, female-female porn will appeal to them specifically. This doesn’t have to do with homophobia, it has to do with profit.

      Furthermore, I would argue that calling straight men “sleazy” for watching female-female porn is actually heterophobic. Your poorly thought ad hominems only serve to further propagate the kind of hate which you and I should be striving to curtail.

      Men aren’t sleazy for watching what they find pleasurable, just as you aren’t sleazy for your sexual preferences. These women are no less disgusting than you or I or movie actors or teachers or nuns.

      And let me say that you should watch what you say about Kate Cygan. You clearly do not know her on any level, but understand that at least half of the entirety of campus would be willing to back her up. She is one of the most well-though and benevolent people in existence, and you bet she knows exactly what she is doing in supporting “these porn people.”

      I don’t know if I have kept your attention this long, but if I have, I really hope that you show up to this speaker event to voice your opinion and be heard. Though I do not personally agree with what you say, I believe that you have every right to say it, and I think that this speaker event is the perfect place for discourse. Please consider coming, even if (or especially if) you disagree with what these people stand for.

      All the best.

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  • Twerp says:

    Anyone know if we’ll be allowed to submit questions to the porn stars before this event?

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  • bob says:

    So pumped to have Sasha Grey and Tori Black come to WashU. Finally treasury funds something we will actually go to.

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  • shevek says:

    “SU treasury funds four porrn stars for sex week”

    If I object to this, does that make me a blue-nosed prude? Isn’t our motto per veritatem vis, strength through truth, not “debauch yourselves and screw the workers”? I append below my letter to the editor, published in Spring 2009, entitled by the editors “Grow Up.”

    In the Freud section of my “Theories of Religion” class, I challenge my students to name American taboos. They always say “sex.” Well if sex is such a taboo why can’t we ever shut up about it? I’m in the cafeteria trying to eat my lunch and you are discussing your sex lives in graphic detail. Get a room! Or at least a phone booth. Wait, I forgot. Those are obsolete. There’s no place any more for Superman to change his clothes. No, I don’t think sex has ever been particularly taboo in America, though we always say it is.

    It seems to me that our real taboos are death and class. Death the students have all heard of but they’d rather not talk about it. Well in my class you must. “What, if anything, would you die for?” I insist on asking them, and I require a good answer, from the heart. Class needs more explanation. “Do you mean classroom? This class? Or classy?” No. When I explain it just sounds commie to them, and then I have to read their essays proclaiming Max Weber a commie just because he wrote about class. Good Lord! Where do they get these people? It was hard NEVER to lose patience with a student, but I never did. Patience is our profession.

    Here is the letter:

    Dear Editor,

    I read with amusement your annual Sex Issue. St. Valentine’s Day is to celebrate all kinds of love, not just sex. I remember reader responses in past years, pointing this out, but still you persist.

    In an online discussion of the economic crisis, an alum pointed out that many think twice about supporting the University due to the hedonistic lifestyle promoted by Student Life in recent years. I hope your Sex Issue has not cost our students even ONE low income scholarship.

    Whenever I suggest, in online discussion or on an exam, that one carefully masked mission of an elite American university is to serve as an upscale job placement and matchmaking service, and that is why it has to cost so much—to keep the riffraff out—even normally friendly students want to throw things at me. Many Asian students, however, say “Right on, Dr. Bauer, these Americans are such hypocrites about their matchmaking.” We Americans are hypocrites about a lot of
    things.

    To the extent that institutions of this sort reinforce the division into two Americas, they do more harm than good to our nation. Perhaps we should rethink our mission. Perhaps our students should grow up a bit.
    I quote Richard Thompson: “Overpaid, oversexed, and over here, get smart, gringo, disappear.”

    Lecturer Jerome Bauer
    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
    Grow up

    Many reader responses to this letter were censored, either robotically or by the editors (in the old format you could tell). I don’t believe in censorship and it would no doubt have been interesting to see what kind of vitriol was hurled my way. I hit a nerve with this letter relating sex to class. “That is why it HAS to cost so much–, to keep the riff-raff out.” All of us who who are working to lower tuition had better keep this in mind., or we will never get anywhere. We should not be afraid to call a spade a spade and have a little vitriol hurled in our faces (not literally, I hope, because that would be violent).

    –Jerome Bauer, under the transparent pseudonym shevek

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    • shevek says:

      There used to be an Ethics and Values requirement, and there used to be a Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values. With 30 million dollars of Danforth cash we could bring it all back in style. That’s the way they usually try to solve perceived problems here: by ostentatiously wasting a lot of money. Why not ape Harvard and have a Center for Ethics and the study of corrupt institutions? We could really feel good about ourselves by criticizing everyone else.

      A Wash U education prepares our students well for life in an expanding bubble of snot about to burst. When it does burst our students will want their money back. Wash U, having failed to reform, will go out of business, and when the Revolution finally comes, and the banksters are all in prison, there will be room in the cells for the Danforths. Please let that never happen. Washington University is well worth saving from itself. Please let cooler heads and wiser souls prevail.

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      • Jbau says:

        lol wat

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        • shevek says:

          Well it’s nothing personal with the Danforths. I don’t believe I have ever met a Danforth but I know many people who have and everybody says they are very nice people. I was just using them as an example of a prominent donor family since their name is all over the place here. I could just as well have used the Olin family as my example. Their name is all the place too.

          I am serious about bringing back the Ethics and Values requirement and the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values or something similar, but I do lament the University’s tendency to overreact to perceived problems by wasting a lot of money.

          I hope we can all keep our class war or Revolution or whatever it is nonviolent and decent and civil and good humored.

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    • shevek says:

      “…one carefully masked mission of an elite American university is to serve as an upscale job placement and matchmaking service, and that is why it has to cost so much—to keep the riffraff out”

      At Wash U every it seems every minority can find a niche, all but one: the mentally ill, including many of my very best students who still labor under a stigma and whose complaints about this usually fall on deaf ears. Student Life published a long overdue letter about this a couple years ago. You can start a Bondage Club with Student Union funding (i’m not making this up) but try starting a campus chapter of NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and see how far you get. Why is this? It would seem that destigmatization of mental illness would fit the school’s liberal “diversity awareness” agenda.

      The first question the stereotypical prospective in-laws always ask is, “Insanity in your family?”

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      • Anonymous says:

        Actually there are multiple groups supporting mental health awareness including Active Minds, a group that works to fight stigma against mental health.

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      • seven says:

        The group that funded the porn stars, SHAC, has an extremely active Mental Health committee which is holding Destress Fest on December 5th from 11-2 in the DUC fun room with professional masseuses and free food! They also have hand out free depression screening flyers, which will allow the user to take the test and directly connect with a mental health professional at student health services. SHS also provides eight free mental health visits, an idea which is heavily promoted by SHAC.

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