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Sexuality Education Leader to Speak at Widener Commencement

The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, co-founder and executive director of the Religious Institute, a multi-faith organization dedicated to sexual health, education and justice, will deliver the Widener University commencement address and receive an honorary doctorate of public service degree on May 14 in a ceremony beginning at 9:45 a.m. on the quad behind Old Main on Widener’s Main Campus in Chester. Nearly 800 students will graduate with associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.

Founded in 2001, the Religious Institute has emerged as the national leadership organization working at the intersection of sexuality and religion. The organization provides clergy, congregations, and denominational bodies with technical assistance on addressing sexuality and reproductive health, and assists sexual and reproductive health organizations to address religious issues and develop outreach to faith communities.

Widener University is home to the only human sexuality doctoral program in the country offered at a fully accredited university. Widener President James T. Harris III said that Rev. Haffner was selected to speak and receive an honorary degree because of her distinguished career and professional accomplishments.

“Reverend Haffner is recognized throughout the nation as a leader in sexuality education,” Harris said. “She has not only advanced the teaching of sexuality education at all levels, but also helped to create communities where the concepts of sexuality and religion exist in harmony.”

Prior to founding the Religious Institute, Rev. Haffner was the chief executive officer of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) from 1988 to 2000. During her tenure at SIECUS, she created the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education; the Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health; and the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Prior to joining SIECUS, she served as the director of education for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington; and special assistant in the U.S. Public Health Service.

She is the author or co-author of six books, including the award-winning “From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children” which has been translated into 10 languages.

An ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, she is the endorsed community minister with the Unitarian Church in Westport, Conn. Rev. Haffner has a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary, a Master of Public Health degree from Yale University School of Medicine and an undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University. In 1996-97, she was a research fellow at the Yale Divinity School. She is currently a visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary and the Pacific School of Religion, and previously taught at Yale Divinity School and Meadville-Lombard Seminary.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A doctorate-granting research university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate’s, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,700 students. Visit the university website,