By Rochelle Gillen
The history of sexuality is not often publicly discussed, because sexual concepts arise independently in each culture. At least, the History Club members at California University of Pennsylvania think so.
They hosted a panel on this topic Dec. 1. Students from the course, “Readings in History,” taught by Professor Michael Slaven, served as panel members. Kathryn Brunetta, Kristin Diethorn, Dylan O’Brien and Ashley Sayles, who had picked apart an article, “The History of Sexuality,” by David M. Halperin in November for their class, were able to offer their audience a look at the differences among cultures’ ideas of sexuality.
“Students approached me with the idea about doing this as a panel discussion,” Slaven said, “which I found very interesting because we have done online discussions with this article and a little bit of in-class work with it, too, and I thought the students got a lot out of it.”
Slaven had chosen the article as the first of many for the course.
“When I heard about the opportunity to discuss this with people outside of [our] class, I jumped on it,” Brunetta, 20, said. “I wanted other people to know just how much it [sexuality] has changed over time and how it is an important part of understanding societies of the past.”
Brunetta provided an abstract of the article before the panelists started their discussion. In it, she said:
“Sexuality comes out of a lot of different things but it is mostly culture and it is the way that people perceive sex at that time. It’s different for every culture and time period.”
Domnick Virgillo, 21, who attended, said, “I think the panel did great on analyzing the article and discussing the major points.”
The presentation focused on the idea, brought up in Halperin’s article, that sexuality in Athens during ancient times was between those of subordinate and superior class rank. In Greek society, it would not be proper for two equals to be found in bed together.
Ancient Greeks are famous for being open with sexuality, but, as Sayles said, “Their openness is in a very different way than anything we would see today.” Today, sexuality is considered a huge part of our individual identity. The ancient Greeks thought the exact opposite.
“They didn’t think about sexuality,” Diethorn, 22, said. “Sex in ancient Athens was completely tied to their social and political standing.” Sexuality had nothing to do with what gender someone was.
“It was interesting to look into the topic from a historical perspective,” said Dane Czerniak, 21, “because it gives you something to compare and contrast with today’s standards and norms, which are often taken for granted.”
It was Halperin’s article that put the event into motion, but it was the panelists who brought the subject alive for Cal U students. The students were chosen on the basis of finding diverse opinions.
For instance, O’Brien, 23, chose to participate in the discussion because “The subject of gender is largely ignored by the male population.” He continued, “it is understudied, in general.”
The club hosts an array of events throughout the semester. Newly elected president Ashley Malec, 21, said she has big plans for the club for the upcoming year, including presentations, panels, debates, trips and more.
“We try to incorporate a variety of subjects to attract different departments on campus,” Malec said. The club members have invited Middle East expert Ford Campbell to present a series on the Middle East next semester. They also hope to host a debate on current issues in the American Constitution.
“… And, of course, we always have free pizza,” said Adam Labuda, 21, the club’s vice president.