On Friday, Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH) began a petition demanding a sexual health resource center at Boston College that they plan to present to the administration at the end of the academic year. So far, the petition has more than 300 signatures.
The petition makes four main demands-availability of contraception on campus (including emergency contraception), free STI testing offered directly through health services, comprehensive information and sexual health resources, and positive sexual decision making programming. BCSSH have stated their hope that their demands be met in a transparent manner during the next academic year.
“This petition is arranged by BCSSH, however it’s inclusive of all members of the Boston College community,” said Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH and A&S ’13. “We are demanding a sexual health resource center on campus, either through the Office of Health Promotion or through Health Services. [Sexual health] is a fundamental part of student health that has been ignored.”
BCSSH, which is not a registered student organization, was created after a UGBC ballot referendum in 2009, and a subsequent UGBC Senate resolution in 2010 in support of BCSSH becoming a registered student organization.
“What we want to do is provide a space where students can get the information they need, learn how to make their own decisions, and feel empowered in those decisions,” Jekanowski said. “We are not advocating for any kind of sexual activity. We simply want students to feel comfortable and have a safe and respectful place on campus where they can go to have these health needs met.”
Don Orr, vice chair of BCSSH and A&S ’14, agreed with Jekanowski.
“The petition just seems to make logical sense,” Orr said. “How do you prevent unplanned pregnancies and STDs and STIs? You give people resources so that if they choose to be sexually active they can prevent them, and have the sexual counseling to decide what they want to do.”
Health Services currently does not provide any form of contraception to students. STI testing is offered through Health Services and is covered by the cost of health insurance, which is mandatory for all college students in Massachusetts. Samples for STI testing are reviewed by a third party to determine whether or not the student is positive for the infection.
“Depending on which infections you want to get tested for and how many, it can get expensive,” Jekanowski said. “This is obviously a deterrent for students to get tested. They charge you because they don’t do the testing on site, and they need to send it out to a third party. We are demanding that BC structure its student health budget so [testing] can be provided free to students to encourage those who are sexually active to get tested regularly.”
In response to the petition, University officials have emphasized BC’s identity as a Jesuit, Catholic University and dedication to Catholic values, which teach abstinence before marriage and preclude the use of prophylactics.
“As a Jesuit, Catholic University, there are certain Catholic commitments that we are called to uphold,” University Spokesman Jack Dunn said. “We ask our students to be respectful of these commitments-even if they do not agree with them.”
Rev. Anthony Penna, director of campus ministry, echoed Dunn’s statement, and emphasized the University’s dedication to dialogue on the issue.
“Boston College is a Catholic institution, and, as such, fully adheres to the positions and practices of the Catholic Church, including those regarding human sexuality,” Penna said in an email. “At Boston College, offices like Campus Ministry remain pastorally committed to dialogue about sexuality as one of God’s profound gifts to the human person and the responsibility we share in understanding and nurturing this gift, not only for our own well-being, but for the well-being of the whole community, as well.”
In the opinion of Jekanowski and other members of BCSSH, the school’s identity does not preclude the presence of a sexual health resource center.
“The administration has the official party line that we are a Jesuit, Catholic school and somehow that is mutually exclusive of meeting all of students’ health needs,” Jekanowski said. “That is not the case. The students that go here, some of them are Catholic, some of them are not. Of those who are Catholic, some make choices that align with the Church’s official stance on these issues, and some don’t.”
Both Orr and Jekanowski remained realistic, however, saying that they did not expect the administration to implement BCSSH’s demands immediately. Nevertheless, they said that the organization remains committed to student health and is optimistic for future success.
“It’s an inch by inch process,” Orr said. “Once people know that they have the power to make a change, and they can make that change not by rallying and picketing, but just by coming out and saying what they would like to see done. If enough people do that, things can change.”
“We really hope that, because we have all these names showing that this is an issue that students are concerned about, the administration will take this into consideration and realize that they are neglecting a fundamental part of student health, and that is not okay,” Jekanowski said. “If students speak up and make this an issue, things will change. We point to the creation of GLC a lot, because that happened because students caused an uproar. What we’re starting here is the beginning of an uproar.”