Students Question Credibility of “Dangerous” Conservative Course Content

A video claiming women are responsible for their own sexual repression has garnered criticism from students after it was assigned for a major economics assessment. Students are questioning why the video was not critiqued in class, and why an ANU course assigned content from a research institution whose founder has been condemned for “promoting bigotry”.

The video, titled “The Economics of Sex” describes men and women’s sexual and marital choices, ostensibly through the lens of economic theory. The video takes as a given that long-term heterosexual marriage is good, and takes a stance against feminist views of women’s oppression, claiming “in the past, it wasn’t the patriarchy policing women’s relationships … it was women”. The research sourced in the video says that if women’s “sexuality has been repressed … women themselves are mostly responsible for it.”

The video was published by the Austin Institute, a family-value focused conservative think tank. One founder and current researcher of the Institute is Mark Regnerus, a sociologist who was disavowed by the American Sociological Association and the University of Texas for publishing “fundamentally flawed” research which argued same-sex marriage families harmed children. Many media outlets have decried the video, and the research behind it, including independent outlets Business Insider and The Conversation, with the latter describing the piece as “conservative propaganda.”

The video was used in ANU course Microeconomics 2 as the central discussion piece for a major assessment. Students were asked to use the arguments from the video in a discussion of the economic theory they had covered in the course. The lecturer, Dr Dana Hanna, defended her choice to assign the video, saying it provided an opportunity to “analyse the economics of someone else’s point of view”. CBE Dean Ian Clarke agreed, saying the video was “not intended to convince students of any particular social viewpoint”. However, neither would comment on why a sociological institution whose members have been condemned for poor research and bigotry was sourced for an economics assignment at ANU. Hanna said the video was chosen because it was “interesting”.

Hanna argued the normative claims were educational, allowing students to realise that “just because it’s on the web or has ‘jargon’ around it, does not make it ‘right’.” However, the assignment does not call for criticism of the video. It rather asks students to “critically evaluate the usefulness of [the student’s chosen economic] theory to the video”. Marni Mount, a student who contacted Hanna with concerns, argued students didn’t have “space to challenge the deeply problematic normative assertions of the film” Matt Bowes, also in the course, agreed the content was “presented without critique”, and that doing so “goes against all the good work ANU and the Residential Halls have done to educate students about consent and healthy relationships”.

Women’s Officer Holly Zhang said it was “irresponsible” to not provide class time for criticism of the piece, as it could “reinforce damaging stereotypes” about women’s decision-making in relationships. Zhang said she would be following up the issue to ensure “concerns about the course material are heard and responded to adequately”.

Not all students were upset. “I thought that there was a real undertone of conservative views,” one student told Observer, but it’s “important to keep in mind that the video and the assignment were two separate things.” Stavros Dimos, another student in the course, argued, “we should be able to analyse [the video] economically without delving into the politics of it.”

In response to student concerns, Hanna promised to include a discussion of the legitimacy of the video in a tutorial. However, this does not appear to have occurred – while the lecturer made a statement to students defending her decision, students told Observer no scrutiny of the content took place.

ANUSA has asked Observer to relay that they encourage any students with any concern regarding course structure or content to contact the Vice-President at [email protected] or the Student Assistance Officers at [email protected]

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