Sex mag editors report differences in funding, no censorship

Students at Boston University get Boink, at Harvard it is called H Bomb and in the Windy City students at the University of Chicago have Vita Excolatur

Student newspaper? Television show? At Yale University its name is a little less ambiguous, Sex Week at Yale: The Magazine.

Their common erotic theme is not the only thing these student publications have in common. They all report that despite their differences in funding and university affiliation, none have faced serious censorship threats from their private school administrators.

Yale’s sex magazine has no formal relationship with the university. It does not ask for or receive any funding from the school, said Soren Sudhof, the magazine’s editor in chief. He said the publication seeks sponsorship from businesses and sells advertisements to obtain revenue.

Boink is in a similar situation at Boston University. It receives no funding from the university and is not associated with the school at all, said Colin Riley, director of media relations.

At the University of Chicago, however, Vita Excolatur is a student organization and does receive some student fee funding through the school, said Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life.

“We try very hard to not make a judgment one way or another in terms of the value or something our students want to do,” Michel said. “I think the University of Chicago is very committed to the free and open exchange of ideas.”

At Harvard, H Bomb is also a recognized student organization and receives funding allocated through the student government. Despite having ties to the university, H Bomb founder and editor in chief Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg said the publication has never been censored. 

“Since the initial media frenzy, we have not heard from the administration with the exception of the Harvard University Archives, which requested two copies of each issue,” Baldegg said.

She added that she felt there was not anything for the administration to censor, describing H Bomb as a literary and arts magazine on the subject of sex.

“Sometimes the artwork includes nudity or partial nudity, but the goal of the magazine is not to showcase nude Harvard students,” she said.

Because they are entirely separate from the university, Sudhof said that Sex Week at Yale: The Magazine can publish whatever it wants, but that staffers have set limits for the publication.

“Our content [has] varied and at times contained explicit instructions or non-mainstream opinions, [but] there was nothing pornographic in it and nothing that would make the average college student overly uncomfortable,” he said. “If anything, some of the content might have been funny to the average reader.”

He added that they do not put any pictures on the publication’s Web site.

Since the magazine has no official ties to the university, Sudhof said they had to be careful not to violate any Yale trademarks.

“Since we are not a Yale-affiliated organization, we could not use the trademark Yale-front ‘Y’ and we also couldn’t include any images of campus without the approval of the Yale Office of Public Affairs,” Sudhof said. “Since we didn’t need either one that much, we put a disclaimer under the magazine title and make sure to shy away from anything explicitly Yale.”

One obstacle that both Baldegg and Sudhof said they encountered concerned liability for publishing nude photos.

“We had to be very careful to make sure models sign model release forms that allow us to publish pictures of them,” Baldegg said. “We generally make a point of making sure students are comfortable with the photos that are being published and are well aware of the attention the photos might receive.”

Sudhof said they had their models sign similar release forms, which gave them the option to opt out if they wanted to after seeing the pictures.

Both editors agreed that the attention their publication received when it first began has died down, which is both good and bad.

“We faced the usual conservative media backlash, everything from Catholic blogs to Fox TV,” Sudhof said. “But the controversy is good in that it accomplishes our mission, which is to get people talking and to expose the deep-seated division of opinion that is still prevalent in our modern society about this most universal of human subjects.”

The largest student publications of this kind are found at private institutions where administrators are not subject to First Amendment limitations in censoring student media as are public institutions. However, Sudhof and Baldegg said their schools have been good about following the principles of the First Amendment.

“Yale has a very free press, I don’t think we’ve made much of a difference,” Sudhof said. “But we did spark debate and a lot of attention.”

“Harvard has a reputation for being somewhat conservative and puritanical, which has certainly been true in the past,” Baldegg said. “On the other hand, professors and students past and present have been very liberal, including some amazingly accomplished writers and artists whose work deals with topics related to sex.”