Their financial aid has been cleared, they've perhaps chosen a major, but -- in order to register for classes this semester -- students at Florida Atlantic University will have to jump through one more administrative hoop: surrendering detailed information about their sex lives.
Call it "TMI U." The school is requiring students to complete an anonymized questionnaire that asks how often they've had sex (including oral sex) in the past three months, and how frequently they use a condom. FAU students are protesting that it's an invasion of their privacy, as did Clemson University students earlier this year over the same mandate.
It's no coincidence; it's part of a two-hour course from CampusClarity called "Think About It," intended to help reduce instances of sexual assault on campus. And the company's chief instructional designer, Jeremy Beckman, tells MTV News that it's currently being used at hundreds of U.S. schools.
Clemson rescinded its policy on mandatory enrollment in the course, but Beckman -- who feels that certain media outlets have sensationalized the questionnaire -- says such a "campus climate survey" is part of a new federal law. We asked him to explain why schools are asking for such personal details, whether the data could possibly be traced back to individuals or hacked, and the future of "Think About It" in response to all the criticism.
MTV News: How many schools are using the program? Which are some of the most well-known ones?
Jeremy Beckman: Over 200 schools are using the program, and that number is growing, especially now because we’ve rolled out a program that is for graduate students. ... I can't divulge [which schools], it does include a variety from small schools to large schools, private and state schools. Geographically, it's very diverse -- all over the United States.
MTV: What is the motivation behind the program?
Beckman: We developed the program in tandem with a couple schools as a way to address the upcoming need to provide training to their students as part of the Campus SaVE [Sexual Violence Elimination] Act regulations, coming out later this year, which will define what precisely they'll need to cover in detail.
Providing training to your students is going to be required [by the U.S. Department of Education]. ... We're trying to produce a program that provides students with vocabulary and awareness of the issues.
MTV: How does asking about students' sexual histories help prevent sexual assault?
Beckman: The more information they have about the behaviors of their students, the more they can tailor to the needs of their particular campus. ... To be absolutely clear, the data is de-identified; we as an organization, nor the schools, have the ability to see who responded to these questions in what way.
To be honest with you, asking these questions isn’t our idea. The Campus SaVE Act is also going to strongly suggest universities take a campus climate survey...so the types of questions we're asking are right in line with what schools are going to ask anyway.
MTV: Do you feel students should have the ability to opt out of answering personal questions?
Beckman: Starting this coming year, we’re going to add an option to any of these questions where they can decline to state. It is going to be in 2015 -- when, precisely, I can’t say. [Right now] if you don't want to provide data, you could say "zero" in a lot of cases; that obviously skews our data, but if students didn't want to provide this information, that's the equivalent to do so.
We do think it's something they should be able to opt out of, if they want -- what's more important is to provide programming. Our highest priority is them being able to have this vocabulary, this emphasis on the tools.
MTV: Are the survey results safe from hackers who could link the answers back to students?
Beckman: There are multiple levels of security, plus all of these answered data are not stored associated with the students. I can't say it's impossible, but...the data is stored in different places and the actual answer data is stored in aggregate form. It would be very difficult even for us to go in and re-identify answer data with individuals.
MTV: Do you feel the media has unfairly portrayed "Think About It" based on the questionnaire?
Beckman: They haven't misrepresented facts so much as they have very conveniently -- or possibly unfairly -- chosen to narrow in and focus on one very small detail within a much larger program. So, especially when taken out of context, these questions feel very invasive. ... A majority of the questions are really not that personal.
MTV: What do the other questions tend to ask?
Beckman: As an example, a lot of them are based on perspective or opinion. Associated with hooking up, there's a question that asks, "If someone has been flirting with another person all night, they owe them something at the end of the night. Agree or disagree?" What we're doing in this case is to provide the university with an understanding of the mindset of the students.
Head to itsyoursexlife.com for facts and answers to all your sexual health questions.