June is bustin’ out all over!
The sheep aren’t sleepin’ any more.
All the rams that chase the ewe sheep
Are determined there’ll be new sheep,
And the ewe sheep aren’t even keepin’ score!
—Oscar Hammerstein II
When Hammerstein penned those lyrics, for the Broadway musical Carousel, he was likening sheep to humans. It’s those inexplicable but insurmountable desires that get the best of Carousel’s protagonists, who fall in love in 1873. One hundred fifty Junes later, U‑M students are still agents of their ovine instincts: The Statement reports that 62 percent of students were sexually active in fall 2022.
The difference is that today, given evolving beliefs, contraception, and the diverse sexual orientations and gender identities on campus, making “new sheep” isn’t the main goal of intimacy. Nor is it the main risk.
In 2021, 50.5 percent of Americans who got a sexually transmitted infection (STI) were age 15–24. Given the age range of typical college students, we can assume that STIs are a significant problem at U‑M. Is there a more pressing issue for our elected leaders to take on? I’m a skeptic of Central Student Government’s priorities, not to mention its competence, but keeping our campus safe and healthy is probably the most meaningful thing CSG can do. If the $19.46 I pay CSG every year helps even one student get treatment and not transmit an STI, I’ll be content.
The CSG Executive Council decided the way to handle the issue was to throw a party. On Tuesday, in collaboration with Spectrum Center, “a campus resource center dedicated to serving and supporting members of the U‑M LGBTQIA2S+ communities,” CSG hosted the “Ice Cream Social with a Twist,” where students could hang out, have a snack, and get tested for STIs. The social’s insensitive tagline, “Life is sweet when you know your status,” is true pretty obviously for only one of the two statuses that can result from an STI test.
Shortly before the event, the testing provider, Unified, withdrew, so the social was left untwisted. That’s unfortunate; although I think the social was a dreadful idea (for reasons I’ll get to shortly), STI testing is crucial, and it’s a shame to cancel an opportunity.
Now, realistically, who might have gone? Attendees would’ve had to be on campus for spring term. They would’ve had to know about the social. They would’ve had to think it sounded fun — not the typical reaction to a CSG invitation — and/or they would’ve needed an STI test. Plus they would’ve had to feel comfortable knowing their mere presence at the social would broadcast their most intimate identifiers — their level of sexual activity, their health, and, jest because it’s June, their sexuality — to the community.
Those three qualities aren’t reasons to be ashamed to socialize, and we ought to be proud that U‑M Ann Arbor is one of the most welcoming campuses for queer students.
My concern about the social is that it’s a dramatic illustration of our growing inability to separate the public and the private. In our culture, and particularly among our generation, we push each other to reveal too much about ourselves. A lot of our indiscretion is immodesty: We’re expected to post pictures of ourselves showing off, and we think the only way to get ahead is to publicize our grades and our “connections” online as we “network.”
Other breaches of privacy are forced on us in the name of friendliness. Think of classroom icebreakers, which are bigoted at worst but more often simply mine our personal information to forge an emotional bond.
The Ice Cream Social with a Twist would have been even more extreme. There are a handful of topics — sex, disease, and most other bodily attributes, as well as finance — that no one has the social right to know your status on. Any request to be open about them when you’re uncomfortable is rude and must be resisted.
To center a party on two of those topics is in bad taste, and that should be obvious. Consider a party where you have the option to publicly declare your income to earn a need-based scholarship, or a party where you advertise your phobias to receive counseling. The rewards might be helpful, but there are more graceful ways to offer them.
I don’t want to make too much of this. No one was forced to go to the social, and, again, had there been testing, the people who attended might have been healthier for it. But why did it have to be a party designed to make an exhibit of students’ personal lives? Let’s be glad we don’t know how it would’ve worked out. In the future, CSG should continue to capitalize on its motivation to prevent STIs but have the sophistication to do it right.
By all means, offer ice cream as an incentive for getting tested. Run a campaign on social media, especially if U‑M students will describe their experiences with STI prevention and treatment. When such information is shared voluntarily in an advocacy campaign, typically private matters necessarily become public.
In the future, CSG should throw a party where everyone can talk about J. J. McCarthy, the Michigan Review, Taylor Swift — whatever will actually inspire camaraderie, not accentuate students’ vulnerabilities.