The University of Maine’s professor of family relations and human sexuality Dr. Sandra Caron was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame on Saturday, March 18, an award commemorating her 35 years at UMaine and outstanding commitment to sexuality education.
To say Caron’s career is expansive would be an understatement — she spent three decades researching and surveying the habits of college students when it comes to sexuality. She has served on over 100 thesis committees, authored or co-authored dozens of scholarly articles, written and published several books and directly taught over 25,000 UMaine students as an alum herself.
A Bangor-Brewer area native, Caron attended UMaine for her undergraduate degree in health and family life education, graduating in 1979. She also obtained her master’s degree in human development here at her alma mater in 1982, later graduating from Syracuse University with a Ph.D. in human development in 1986.
Her experience at Syracuse connected her with world-renowned sex educator Sol Gordon, and she later went on to work at Cornell University. Late UMaine associate professor of child development and education Lloyd Brightman — Caron’s former advisor, whom she kept in close touch with throughout her postgraduate career — encouraged her to take his spot after his retirement.
“When I came back, I took over from him, teaching his courses,” Caron explained in her interview. “And I have been here for 35 years…I also was very involved in peer education when I was here as a student, and when I left I developed this peer sexuality program that became a model for schools all over the country.”
This led Caron to focus on more peer education opportunities at UMaine upon her return, starting the program Athletes for Sexual Responsibility.
She also ran a column here in Maine Campus Media — the longest running column in a college newspaper — titled Sex Matters, where she answered student questions about sexuality.
In addition to her Hall of Fame induction, Caron received two out of the three UMaine Presidential awards: the Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award and the Presidential Public Service Award. In 2019, she was awarded the Distinguished Maine Professor award, something she described as the pinnacle of her career.
“My parents always said education was so important,” Caron said. “But yet, when it came to sexuality, there wasn’t much of it.”
This sparked her desire to become a sex educator, focusing on women’s health, the understanding of women’s health and inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Maine Women’s Hall of Fame is displayed at UMaine Augusta’s Bennett D. Katz Library.
“I’ve looked up to many of these women,” Caron said of her fellow inductees. “Think about their contributions in fields like science, the arts, health, education, athletics; it’s pretty hard to believe. It’s pretty amazing what they’ve done to improve the lives of girls, and everyone, in our state.”
In her induction remarks, Caron extended this gratitude toward her Hall of Fame predecessors.
“It is humbling to be among these prestigious women who have broken all those glass ceilings,” Caron said. “It is also significant that I am being inducted at a time in my life when there is a woman governor, Janet Mills, a woman president of the University of Maine, Joan Ferrini-Mundy, and a woman dean of my College of Education and Human Development, Penny Bishop. We have come a long, long way.”
Despite her incredible impact on UMaine, the community as a whole and over 25,000 individuals, Caron acknowledged that sex education is an underrepresented field and often uncomfortable to some.
“At my 10 year high school reunion, someone came up to me and said, ‘Remember when you wanted to be a sex educator? What are you doing now?’” Caron said.
Now, Caron is a highly awarded professor awaiting her retirement; the 2023–24 school year will be her last as a UMaine professor. She encourages students to enroll in human sexuality courses and to stay open-minded, compassionate and positive when getting involved in sexuality education.