University adds new sexual health minor

The minor will be available in the fall semester to masters and doctorate students.

by Bella Dally-Steele

The University of Minnesota is bringing sex education, a topic usually reserved for middle school classes, to public health graduate students with a new minor program starting this fall.

Among the first of its kind in the nation, the University’s Board of Regents approved the program at its June meeting. The program will merge education on sexual health, sexual behavior and sexuality, highlighting the public health implications of the subject.

Simon Rosser, professor of epidemiology and community health, spearheaded the minor program, which requires eight credits for masters’ students and 12 for doctoral students.

Rosser said he led the push for the program after noting a nationwide student interest in the field while counseling and advising students.

“There’s a lack of similar opportunities across the nation,” Rosser said, “and we want to attract the best students.”

The minor will include courses covering a variety of subjects, including HIV, AIDS, reproductive health and women’s and LGBT studies.

The minor will also include a course Rosser started a year ago: Sex, Sexuality and Sexual Health. The course was Rosser’s first response to student interest on the topics and eventually paved the way for the minor.

Timothy Presley, a University alumnus who took the course, said it focused on interpretations of sexual health and sexuality across cultures, as well as helpful training on how to maturely broach these topics.

The class used a “flipped classroom” approach where lectures were delivered online and class time was devoted to discussion, Presley said, which gave the most chance for student-professor interaction.

Rosser said the only drawback of the course was its length – at the time, it spanned just two months. Today, the course is semester-long.

Because of the various possible applications of the minor’s subject matter, Rosser said he expects interest from students across disciplines. The majority of students will likely be epidemiology and community health students, he said, but students from related disciplines, like education, may find the minor just as helpful.

“Sexuality is relevant to everybody, so whatever field you’re in, there’s an aspect related [to sexual health],” said Kristin Anderson, professor and associate dean for learning systems and student affairs.

Anderson said the major continues to build on the University’s history of leading sexual health research and education.

“What this provides is a way to coalesce some courses … a way to package them that gives people a more comprehensive education,” Anderson said.

She said aside from centralizing sexual health courses, she hopes the minor will spotlight the importance of using public health strategies to promote community health and prevent disease.

“Our mission is to see what we can do to provide the best educational opportunities, and see gaps that exist in training in public health and [to see] how we can fill those,” she said.

Undergraduate interest in related sexual health courses has been palpable, but the University is not yet ready to explore an undergraduate equivalent of the minor, Rosser said.

Neha Panigrahy contributed to this report.