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Uncertain horizons for Kinsey Institute
How political tensions threaten the historic Kinsey Institute's independence
The Kinsey Institute, a renowned center for the study of sexuality, gender, and relationships at Indiana University (IU), is facing a critical juncture in its 75-year history. A series of recent developments involving the Indiana state legislature and the university's board of trustees have raised significant concerns about the institute's future structure, funding, and independence. This tension has culminated in a recent standoff with the state legislature and university administration, bringing the institute's future into sharp focus.
While not primarily focused on nudism, the Kinsey Library & Special Collections is notable for possessing the largest collection of nudist magazines and literature in a university library. This aspect underscores its broader importance in preserving diverse aspects of sexual history and culture.
In February 2023, the Indiana state legislature, led by freshman legislator Lorissa Sweet (R) of Wabash, under a Republican trifecta, passed an amendment effectively stripping the Kinsey Institute of public funding.1 On May 15, 2023, it was reported that Governor Holcomb had recently signed the two-year budget bill, which included the defunding of the Kinsey Institute.2
Following this, the IU Board of Trustees, which had previously been successful in shielding the institute from direct political attacks, proposed a plan to restructure the Kinsey Institute. The proposal involved spinning off part of the institute into a separate nonprofit (501c3) entity governed by its own board, while the university would retain ownership of the institute's extensive collections and archives. Kinsey Institute faculty, staff, and students expressed strong opposition to this proposal.3
On November 10, 2023, the Indiana University Board of Trustees tabled their scheduled vote on the proposed restructuring of the Kinsey Institute. The board had considered spinning off part of the institute into a nonprofit, responding to the state legislature's funding ban. University leaders, heeding requests from Kinsey employees for more time to review the proposal, agreed to postpone the vote. This delay reflects ongoing deliberations about the institute's future, amidst concerns for its role at the university and academic freedom.4
Despite the challenges, IU has expressed support for the Kinsey Institute. President Pamela Whitten, after the passage of the anti-Kinsey amendment, affirmed the university's commitment to supporting the institute in securing research grants and private funding. Moreover, a public petition against the restructuring plan, initiated by Jennifer Bass, former director of communications for Kinsey Institute, garnered over 350 signatures, reflecting public concern about the proposed changes.
This is an evolving situation, and the final outcome remains unresolved.
Kinsey Institute’s history
The Kinsey Institute was established in 1947 by Alfred Kinsey, renowned sexologist and Indiana University professor, to focus on the study of human sexuality. Funded initially by Indiana University and the Rockefeller Foundation, the Institute for Sex Research was created as a secure repository for Kinsey's pioneering research, ensuring the confidentiality and preservation of his data.
Kinsey's seminal work, known as “the Kinsey Reports” — “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” (1948) and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” (1953), offered groundbreaking insights into a range of sexual behaviors and orientations, challenging societal norms and laying the foundation for future studies in sexology.
Over the decades, the Kinsey Institute continued to expand its research and educational activities. After Kinsey's death in 1956, the institute saw a series of directors, each contributing to its evolution. In 1981, to honor its founder, it was renamed The Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. Under June Reinisch's directorship in the 1980s, the institute's focus broadened to include gender and reproduction, reflecting its expanded mission.
A significant turning point came in 2016 when the Kinsey Institute merged with Indiana University. This merger, ending its independent incorporation, brought the institute more directly under the university's umbrella, consolidating its academic activities.
It has been suggested that the proposed separation of the institute from its archives could violate the 2016 Articles of Merger between Kinsey and IU. These articles established that the Kinsey Institute is the manager of the Kinsey Collection, with IU committed to preserving the collection within the institute and its library system.
The Kinsey Library & Special Collections, housing over one million artworks, artifacts, photographs, rare films, and books, are central to the institute's legacy, and contains one of the largest collections of nudist magazines and literature in the United States outside of the independent nudist research libraries that make up the Nudist Research Library Consortium. Professor Emeritus Claude Cookman, a special advisor to the Kinsey collections, emphasized the importance of these collections to the institute's history and identity.
Navigating a new era
The challenges facing the Kinsey Institute, initiated by the amendment passed by the legislature—where Republicans held a 70-30 majority in the House—mirrors a nationwide conservative trend aimed at curbing sexual research and education. The Kinsey Institute, notable for its extensive collection of nudist literature and magazines, stands as a crucial archive for understanding diverse sexual cultures, including nudism.
Such actions not only threaten the progress made in sexual enlightenment but also hinder the acceptance of lifestyles like nudism. The Kinsey Institute's work in normalizing discussions around body freedom and sexual diversity plays a vital role in challenging societal norms and stigmas.
This legislative decision marks a regressive step, contrasting starkly with the strides made in understanding and embracing different sexual practices which Alfred Kinsey and his lasting work has come to represent. 🪐
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Sandweiss, E. (2023, November 8). Kinsey sex research institute could be severed from Indiana University. WFYI. www.wfyi.org.
Liberty Counsel. (2023, May 15). IN Legislators Defund Kinsey Sexual Research Institute. www.lc.org.
Sandweiss, E. (2023, November 6). Researchers decry admin plan to sever Kinsey Institute from IU. Indiana Public Radio. indianapublicradio.org.