On Friday, Mar. 15, the University administration sent an email to the residents of all rooms identified as Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH) “Safe Sites,” indicating that students in those rooms could be in violation of University policy if they were found to be distributing condoms to the general student body. The letter, signed by Paul Chebator, dean of students, and George Arey, director of the Office of Residential Life, further indicated that residents of these rooms could be subject to disciplinary action.
“It has been brought to our attention that your residence hall living unit has a ‘Safe Site’ logo on your door that identifies your living unit as a ‘safe sex site,'” the letter to Safe Site residents read. “It is our understanding that this indicates that you are distributing condoms to the general student body from this location. It is incumbent upon us as University administrators to advise you that the distribution of condoms on campus is not in concert with the mission of Boston College as a Catholic and Jesuit university.”
The BCSSH website currently lists 13 different rooms as Safe Sites. Students can go to any of the rooms listed for access to free sexual health resources, including male and female condoms, dental dams, and lubricant, as well as sexual health pamphlets and information on STDs, birth control, and consensual decision making. Safe Sites are intended to be easily located by interested students and are distinguished by a Safe Site symbol placed on each room’s external door.
The specific resources provided at Safe Sites are provided by funding from the Advocates for Youth, the Great American Condom Campaign, and the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. Despite being composed by BC students, BCSSH is not a registered student organization, and is supported by the above organizations.
In a press release made public last night, Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH and A&S ’13, argued that the University’s attitude towards condom distribution is putting the health of students at risk.
“Young people have a right to the health care services and information that will allow them to make the best decisions for their health,” Jekanowski said. “By banning the distribution of condoms on campus, even in the privacy of students’ own dorm rooms, Boston College leaves a dangerous void in student health education, resources, and programming.”
The University has long maintained the stance that condom distribution violates the Jesuit, Catholic tradition of BC, so BCSSH condom distributions have typically been limited to areas off BC’s campus, such as the sidewalks near College Road.
Both the letter from Chebator and Arey and statements by University Spokesman Jack Dunn furthered this argument. “We would call your attention to the BC Student Guide which indicates that Boston College students have: ‘The responsibility to respect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution,'” the letter read. “The distribution of condoms is not congruent with our values and traditions.”
“As a Jesuit university, there are certain Catholic commitments that we are called to uphold,” Dunn said. “All we ask of our students is that they respect these commitments and the values upon which they are founded. If this group of students chooses not to comply with University policies, they will face disciplinary sanctions.”
Jekanowski, however, took a different view on sexual health in light of the Jesuit, Catholic tradition. “It is expressly because we have the privilege of attending a Jesuit Catholic university so dedicated to the development of the self-both the body and the soul-that we find it both appropriate and necessary to advocate for these sexual health issues that are an integral aspect of that process,” Jekanowski said. “Young people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, have a need for and fundamental right to healthcare that, if the University refuses to meet it, groups like BCSSH must be allowed to fill. We will continue to uphold these values under the fundamental student rights guaranteed by the university in our student guide.”
It is unclear what immediate effects the letter will have on the BCSSH Safe Site program, as the presence of the logo itself does not necessarily indicate a violation of policy, a fact noted by Chebator and Arey in their letter.
“While we understand that you may not be intentionally violating University policy, we do need to advise you that should we receive any reports that you are, in fact, distributing condoms on campus, the matter would be referred to the student conduct office for disciplinary action by the University,” the letter read.
BCSSH maintained in their press release that the letter constituted a threat to the future of their program, due to the fact that the “administration threatened disciplinary action if the students were to continue dispensing materials and information to their peers.”
Upon receiving the letter, members of BCSSH consulted with Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts. “I believe that Boston College is violating the rights of these students by threatening disciplinary action against them,” Wunsch said in the BCSSH press release.
Regardless of the potential setback to their Safe Site mission, Jekanowski said that she and the other members of BCSSH look forward to continuing to advocate for students and working with the administration to accomplish their goals.
“We look forward to taking this opportunity to work with Boston College, and to continue what has been a respectful and positive relationship with our administration,” Jekanowski said.