Providence College Professor Anthony Esolen had just started his presentation at Yale University when Diana Ross' classic hit "I'm Coming Out" - now an anthem for gay activists - started blaring at full volume from an audience member's cell phone. Esolen was just beginning to explain how the sexual revolution contributed to cultural degradation.
On cue, 12 couples, both straight and gay, stood up and started kissing while supporters cheered.
When the "kiss-in" ended, the protestors walked out of the auditorium, leaving about 40 people to hear the end of the lecture, titled "The Person as a Gift."
Esolen's presentation on Feb. 6, helped kick off True Love Week, a series of lectures on traditional marriage and sexual purity organized by a small group of Yale students. The event offered an alternative to the "free love" message preached across the Ivy League campus during Sex Week, held this year between Feb. 4 and Feb. 14.
Despite the protests, their classmates' derision and the relatively small crowds that gathered for the True Love Week lectures, the organizers declared it a success. Undergraduates for a Better Yale College (UBYC) aimed to do more than just fight a battle against the school's "negative campus culture," member Kelly Schuman said. The organizers wanted to offer a more positive cultural alternative, which they did, even if fewer students than they would have liked took part.
"It was absolutely a success," Schuman said.
Based on the attention it managed to direct toward the attitudes about sexuality on campus, the group itself succeeded, even though it technically fell short of its first goal.
Yale students Eduardo Andino and Bijan Aboutorabi formed UBYC last year to circulate a petition asking administrators to ban Sex Week, an event that takes place with the school's approval every two years.
Though the petition was enough to convince Yale's president to recommend Sex Week's cancellation, administrators eventually let the event continue, with a few new restrictions. Sex Week organizers could no longer use Yale's name to promote the event and could not accept corporate sponsorships. Once they knew Sex Week would continue, UBYC's members shifted their focus from banning the event to organizing an alternative.
Instead of simply avoiding the topic of sex, True Love Week promoted the blessings of both waiting for sex until marriage and enjoying a monogamous relationship with one partner, hosting seminars like "Chastity and Human Good" and "Sexual Bliss: Satisfaction and Marital Happiness for Today's Couples."
Esolen's lecture attracted the biggest crowd. The other events averaged an attendance of about 20-25 people, Schumann said.
While the group succeeded in drawing in well-known speakers and successfully conjuring a media storm that kept officers busy with three to four interviews a day during the event, both Schumann and fellow member Travis Heine agreed that the organization could do a better job of drawing in students unsure of their beliefs.
"We didn't do a great job of getting fence sitters to come to our events, so to an extent, the speakers were preaching to the choir," Heine said. But those who did attend learned a great deal and strengthened their beliefs, and the added advertisement will help improve turnout in the future, Heine said
Sex Week won't take place again until 2014, but UBYC might organize another True Love Week next year.
"We do see a great need, especially at an institution like Yale, for personal and moral development and not just academic growth," Heine said. "We spend hours upon hours dedicated to preparing for our careers, but almost no time at all preparing for marriage and family life, which in some ways will be even more important and fundamental to our life post-graduation than our profession."
Elena Gonzalez, a Yale student who is not a member of UBYC but is sympathetic to their mission, says the school's negative culture is represented most commonly by the majority of students on campus who dismissed True Love Week because they didn't want to consider that their actions and lifestyles might carry serious consequences.
"People seem unwilling to consider seriously ideas that would suggest that they restrict their acting on their desires for pleasure . . .as long as sex is consensual, most are unwilling to make moral claims about it," she said.
Gonzalez says she's never personally experienced persecution for siding with UBYC but has difficulty engaging people in favor of Sex Week in real discussion: "These people seem to generally think that the premise of True Love Week was old-fashioned and meaningless, that we have come beyond the need for such restrictive norms in our society."
Despite the prevailing cynicism towards biblical beliefs regarding sex, the members of UBYC still hold fast to their mission to challenge the "hook-up culture." Working with like-minded groups provides "sturdy ships of safety" whose support "actually makes fighting the conservative cause not just possible, but also fun," Heine said.
UBYC was built on the camaraderie of close, like-minded friends, and Heine says the trials they endure will only make them stronger and their goal more attainable: "Working together for a good cause in the face of adversity - what better recipe for friendship is there?"