College Students Required to Detail Sexual History Before Registering for Classes

Colleges are increasingly demanding that students disclose details of their private lives in Title IX training. For example, Campus Reform reported that a “mandatory online course at the University of Southern California (USC) asks students to disclose the number of sexual encounters they have had over the past three months” as part of its “Title IX training.” This might well violate students’ rights under state law to privacy or freedom from compelled speech.

A college email told students they must complete the Title IX training in order to register for courses. “This course is mandatory…If you do not complete the training by this date you will receive a registration hold until the training is complete.” Some students at USC found the training too intrusive. “It was just full of super personal questions,” Jacob Ellenhorn, a student at USC, told Campus Reform.

A federal appeals court allowed a woman to sue for constitutional privacy violations over questions that required her to discuss her home life, in Robinson v. Reed (1978). She sued over a race-relations seminar that delved into “attendees’ personal, private, and off-duty lives.” The court explained that the “government may not require an individual to relinquish rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as a condition of public employment. Inquiries into personal beliefs and associational choices come within this protection.” Similarly, that appeals court ruled that people can sue over disclosure of the “most private details” of their life, in Fadjo v. Coon (1981).

The University of Southern California is a private university, not the government. But students have been subjected to similarly intrusive questionnaires at state universities, which are bound by the federal Constitution, including its free-speech and privacy guarantees, because state universities are considered arms of the government. The Supreme Court has made that clear over and over again.

Moreover, the University of Southern California is located in the state of California, which requires even private universities to respect students’ free speech rights (under the state’s Leonard Law). California appeals court rulings require even private institutions to comply with state constitutional privacy rights.

Title IX is not an excuse for these invasive questions. Neither the Title IX statute nor Title IX regulations tell colleges to ask students about their sex lives. Moreover, Title IX does not alter the Constitution. A court explained this in striking down a campus harassment code as a First Amendment violation even though it was intended to comply with civil-rights laws such as Title IX’s sister statute — Title VI — and was modeled on the workplace harassment law Title VII. As it explained, “since Title VII is only a statute, it cannot supersede the requirements of the First Amendment.” (UWM Post, Inc. v. Board of Regents (1991)). Courts have overturned students’ discipline as a due-process violation, even when it was imposed pursuant to a college’s Title IX procedures, in cases such as Doe v. Baum (2018).


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Liberty Unyielding on October 24, 2021 and is crossposted here with permission.

Image: EEJCC, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license, cropped.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader is a senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

8 thoughts on “College Students Required to Detail Sexual History Before Registering for Classes

  1. All true, but it would seem the solution should be simpler than the one provided by judicial wrangling and lawyerly appeals to Constitutionality.

    Don’t answer the questions.
    Stop. Don’t pass GO; don’t collect your class registrations. Just say NO.

    The fact that any head-up-butt governing body might feel self-righteously empowered to ask personally intrusive questions does not mean that any of those questions will or should be answered (or answered honestly). Even with the nominally threatened ‘stick’ of no-class-registration hanging above the students’ heads, every student so challenged can and should simply say NO (and ‘Hell No!’ would be more than appropriate).

    No — I’m not answering. It’s none of your business. It’s not the business of the University. It’s nobody’s business but my own. The truth of my sexual experience is owned exclusively by ME, not you. (Appropriately followed by a suggestion as to where such questions should be firmly lodged)

    So let the callow fools who called for such idiot things then disallow class registration for all 3,460 incoming freshmen. Let the school try to explain to the 3460 families that little Suzie’s acceptance did not translate into class registration because little Suzie refused to reveal her sexual past to a gaggle of Heepish University Administrators who really, really (picture a roomful of Dirty Old Men & Women) REALLY wanted to know what Suzie got up to in the back seat of her Daddy’s car after Homecoming.

    So refuse — probably the best option — OR simply lie. That works too. How many sexual encounters have I had over the last whatever? I dunno. Maybe 961 (if you count yesterday afternoon). How many people have been involved in my sexual adventuring? Gosh, I’d guess, conservatively maybe 8 per encounter so that gives me 7688 (not counting the audiences, of course). Continue in that vein. And yes, I have written and notarized consent from all 7688 (and their mothers), so there!

    The fact that our Universities — formerly known as ‘institutions of Higher Learning’ — have embraced this insultingly invasive insanity does not mean anyone else needs to so follow. So don’t!

    It’s a very grown-up thing to do!

    1. Yes, and cats are so much more fun than sheep. That’s what I might put down if I had to complete such a ridiculous questionnaire!

  2. A mountain out of a molehill. First, the so-called “Campus Reform” article is over five years old, and is posted on the site of the Leadership Institute, and the author is not listed as of their staff. A great deal has changed in five years, in Title IX instruction and just about everything else in this society. I suspect the “course” (even “workshop” grants these types of instruction too much dignity) is long gone, replaced by several “new” interpretations of institutional liability. Second, we really are talking about liability here, no more, no less. That USC seems poorly adjusted to managing its liabilities (the place is perennially reaping scandals); no less than the apparent intrusiveness of its inquiries into student behaviors, may rise to the level of our concern, but I am content to let the market determine that, just as I am willing to allow them their rights in property to admit whom they consider worthy. I am not saying excess “schooling” under the aegis of Title IX is either welcome or warranted, but it does reflect the contest of interests and values. Students uninterested or unwilling to cooperate can walk away.

  3. Instead of just filing suits to retain civil rights, every student should be filing civil damage lawsuits and even class action suits for billions. Damage the schools’ finances significantly and this crap will stop immediately.

    1. You raise an interesting point — there are kids raped in high school. Being forced to sit through a couple hours of this video could provoke a suicide — with political liability.

      Likewise, once USC knows something, it becomes liabile for negligence. Hence student overdose deaths — once USC knows the kid is doing drugs, ummmmm….

  4. This is worse than it appears — they are building a psych file on each student. Worse, HIPAA doesn’t apply — all STUDENT medical records come under FERPA so the answers can be shared with the entire admin.

    It can be used to create ‘watch lists’, to sentence students to re-education training, and worse.

    Has anyone told FIRE about this?

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