Four years ago, the vast majority (90 percent) of students at Boston College (BC), a Catholic university, voted in favor of having access to sexual health-care education and resources, including contraceptives, on campus. We are proud to have been among the passionate group of students who led that campaign and formed the unofficial student group Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH). But we quickly learned that the university would ignore the overwhelming call for reform.
Safe Sites is one of the programs we designed to meet students’ need for sexual health care. Boston College administrators knew it existed and let it operate under the radar for years—until this month. Now, their shocking backlash against the program is inspiring news coverage around the world.
The Boston College administration recently sent letters to Safe Sites locations threatening disciplinary action for distributing condoms. Speaking publicly this week, Boston College spokesperson Jack Dunn speculated that students who continue to provide condoms to their peers could face expulsion from the university.
Expulsion. From a major American university. In the 21st century.
As three recent grads who have all gone on to pursue careers in health education and advocacy, we strongly condemn the administration’s abrupt and cowardly interference with students’ attempts to educate their peers and provide them with the tools they need to lead healthy lives. All people deserve access to the information and resources they need to make informed decisions about their own health, including students at a Catholic university.
Why? Because one in two sexually active people will get a sexually transmitted disease by age 25. Half of all women will experience an unplanned pregnancy. And don’t even try to use the “Catholic universities are different” argument; 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women will use contraception in their lifetime.
So since the university isn’t willing to provide sexual health information and resources to its students, who better to step up and do so than students themselves?
We are so proud of the students of BCSSH who continue to fight for health-care access on the BC campus. The BC administration’s threats against them are an embarrassment for an institution that prides itself on being a “new Ivy.” BC is in its sesquicentennial year, but still has so far to go. And making public statements threatening to expel students is a surefire way to discourage new applicants.
Have no doubt: If what is happening today had happened during our senior year of high school, we would not have chosen to attend BC. And we say this as scholarship recipients and student leaders—the kind of young people BC should and does endeavor to recruit.
Still, we often find ourselves defending our alma mater. For all its backwards policies, BC did challenge us to develop and defend strong convictions and to organize effectively in an environment hostile to our cause. But it’s time we stopped backing BC up. The administration’s actions are indefensible.
People ask why “radicals” like us would choose to attend a Catholic university in the first place. We believe college students should not have to choose between the world-class education that BC offers and having their health needs met.
Further, we chose to go to a Catholic university, not the Catholic Church. We were never warned that students who advocate for basic health-care access would be silenced and undermined at every turn. In every tour and orientation, student guides proclaim that BC is a welcoming campus for people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
We know now that isn’t true.
It wasn’t true when a conservative student who used the “Holy Father’s teachings” to justify his claim that condoms have no impact on curbing the spread of HIV was invited to the same sexual health policy meeting we, as BCSSH board members, attended with BC administrators; he was given the same platform and afforded the same legitimacy.
It wasn’t true when another student organization on campus was punished for collaborating with BCSSH for a World AIDS Day event.
It wasn’t true when a campus priest harassed BCSSH volunteers during a routine condom distribution off campus.
It isn’t true while the Pro-Life Club is a recognized, funded student organization and BCSSH is not.
It isn’t true when students can’t rely on the campus health center for accurate, evidence-based, judgment-free health information and treatment.
And it isn’t true now, as the administration proves once again how little it cares for the health, wellness, and autonomy of the very students it’s charged with representing and protecting.
We always used to lament that “change is glacial” at BC, but now it’s going backwards. It’s disgraceful that the administration chooses to interpret its Catholic mission so limitedly. To us, BC’s motto, “Ever to Excel,” its commitment to social justice, and its call for students to act as “men and women for others” do not entail the judgment, shaming, or repression the administration is showing to BC Students for Sexual Health.
Boston College encouraged us to follow St. Ignatius of Loyola’s creed to “set the world aflame,” to fill it with the light of our passion, intellect, and hope in order to change it for the better. Perhaps it’s time the school takes its own advice.
You can sign a petition showing your support for BC Students for Sexual Health here.
Photo from robertelyov licensed under Creative Commons