UPDATE: Mizzou gender studies class required to watch disturbing sexually explicit movie
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a statement from Prof. Elman.
Several students in a gender studies class at the University of Missouri were reportedly aghast at the explicit nature of a film they were required to view Wednesday.
Victoria Stroup, a student in the “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies” course taught by Prof. Julie Elman, told Campus Reform that the class was not even given a trigger warning before being shown the film Tongues Untied, which she claimed managed to unsettle even some of her liberal classmates.
"I am a 45 year old gay black man who enjoys taking dick in his rectum, I am not your bitch...Your bitch is at home with your kids," one speaker says near the beginning of the film, recounting an argument he once overheard on a bus between two black, gay males.
At another point, scenes from a gay pride demonstration show a number of barely-clad individuals, some wearing nothing but leather chaps, as voices superimposed in the background chant “let me touch it, let me lick it, let me suck it, let me taste it.”
“There were a couple girls sitting around me, and I heard one of them say ‘Oh, my God’,” Stroup said, noting that the same individuals are not normally fazed by the course’s content. “As we were walking out a couple of the girls were talking about it and didn’t know what to make of it.”
Elman had not responded by press time to emails from Campus Reform requesting comment, but Stroup said that the purpose of the video, as she understood it, was to introduce the class to a person of color’s perspective on gay history.
“This past week we’ve been talking about the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted the gay community, and how various different identities were impacted by it,” she explained. “We were talking about the new Stonewall movie that’s coming out, and [Elman] complained about the way gay history is viewed from the perspective of whites.”
Stroup noted that she and a small group of classmates have been uncomfortable with aspects of the course in the past—such as a reading assignment that she said “described sex acts somewhat graphically”—but that Tongues Untied was particularly objectionable.
She was careful to point out, though, that her objections to the movie have nothing to do with its subject matter, but rather with what she considered its gratuitous use of disturbing language and images.
“I grew up having a gay brother, so it’s not about me having an opinion on what people do in their personal lives,” she explained, adding that as a libertarian (she is a member of the school’s Young Americans for Liberty group) she doesn’t care what people do in private, but that she doesn’t particularly care to witness anyone’s bedroom activities.
“Today was just really explicit and profane, and I was just like, ‘why is this pertinent to my education?’” she remarked. “I don’t think we needed to watch this video with graphic images to get the point.
“I’m used to having to stifle my own beliefs because I’m around people who think differently, like, all the time, but some other people in class told me that I needed to say something,” she added. “Personally, I really do love this professor and the TA’s—they’re all very nice and very helpful—but it’s like I still have to act a certain way to get a desirable grade.”
UPDATE: Although her teaching schedule prevented her from responding to Campus Reform in time for publication, Prof. Elman contributed the following response Thursday by email:
"The course referenced in this story, titled Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies, examines some major strands of critical gender and sexuality studies, relating them to and understanding them through the American cultural history of gender and sexuality. Students are informed at the beginning of the course that some of the material presented in the class might be controversial or could make them uncomfortable. University policy allows students the ability to drop a class during the first two weeks of a semester with a full refund and no negative mark on their academic record.
The film, Tongues Untied (1989), is a documentary that was originally broadcast on PBS in the early 1990s. It was screened during classes discussing the politics of sexuality and how gay activism influenced political policy and U.S. culture, especially during the 1980s and 1990s. The film provides students an opportunity to see how a marginalized group, specifically gay black men, are affected by political policies and cultural norms. Previously, classes have discussed the broader context of the film, and the professor summarized the controversy surrounding it when it was first screened in the early 1990s.
Prior to showing the film, the professor communicated with students that the film contained scenes and language that might be offensive. In her class, the professor allows students to miss three class periods for any reason and may choose not to write about material in a given week for any reason as long as they submit at least three papers by the end of the course. These accommodations, combined with warnings about the context of material provide students the flexibility to avoid material they find objectionable. They also are encouraged to voice any concerns about course materials."
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