Representation, Power, and
Informed Consent in Teaching
Feminist Cultural Studies
On January 19, 1994, University of Iowa President Hunter Rawlings and the University of Iowa Board of Regents approved a policy stating that students must be warned in advance of the use in classrooms of any 'unusual and unexpected class presentations or materials' ( Leatherman 1993: A22). The board acted after two students complained about having to watch films representing 'non-heterosexual lifestyles', such as the critically acclaimed Taxi zum Klo and Paris Is Burning. The policy does not directly limit what an instructor may teach, but it does require instructors to warn students before presenting materials -- 'graphic, still photo, motion film form, or otherwise' -- that include 'explicit representations of human sexual acts that could reasonably be expected to be offensive to some students' ( Leatherman 1993: A22). In addition, instructors must allow students to excuse themselves from those classes without penalty and either complete an alternative assignment or drop the course.
The controversies at Iowa captured attention as graduate students protested the board's action by showing these films during the Canned Film Festival. In what follows, I explore the implications for Cultural Studies teaching and my own classroom practice of policies such as the one adopted by the University of Iowa administration. I look closely at this policy and at a curious document entitled 'Consent Form for Courses Using Sexually Explicit Material' ( 1993), which was available through the Women's Studies List on the Internet. The University of Iowa's administrative response to 'sexually explicit material' is very similar to the position represented by the Women's Studies List Consent Form. I argue that