Tensions have calmed somewhat between the administration and Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH) since the controversy over “Safe Sites” made national headlines last week, but the students involved remain dedicated to their cause.
Despite pushback from the University and the possibility of disciplinary action, Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH and A&S ’13, said that the group is going to continue the work that it has done in the past, including condom distributions on College Rd. and the Safe Sites program, which provides comprehensive sexual health information, male and female condoms, and personal lubricant in residence halls.
“We’re not going to stop the work that BCSSH normally does,” Jekanowski said. “We don’t want this to escalate needlessly, but we’re going to continue being public with our work.”
Since the letter went public last Monday, the organization has received more than 900 signatures each, 1,800 total, on two separate petitions of support-one for members of the BC community, and one for non-members. “We’re so overwhelmed and so grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve gotten over the past week,” Jekanowski said.
The organization began a campaign on their Facebook page last week for supporters to call Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and discourage him from attending a speaking engagement at BC on Tuesday. Patrick attended the event as planned, and when asked a question about the condom situation by Jekanowski, dismissed it as out of his scope as governor.
It is unclear if any specific event sparked the letter to Safe Sites residents sent Mar. 15. Jekanowski said that BCSSH had not changed its operations recently, continuing the Safe Sites program normally and distributing condoms on College Rd. periodically. In interviews with CNN and NBC, however, University Spokesman Jack Dunn stated that the group had become “very public” with their distributions and were attempting “to make a mockery out of Catholic values,” claims that Jekanowski and BCSSH deny.
Dean of Students Paul Chebator was surprised by the response to the letter, saying that he did not expect it to cause such a stir. The members of BCSSH had been meeting with administrators in the Dean of Students Office (DSO) and in the Office of Residential Life regularly over the past two semesters, and those conversations were ongoing. The letter, Chebator said, was not a threat, but rather a warning.
“The letter was a clarification of University policy,” Chebator said. “It was a matter of wanting to go on record with them so that it was clear to everyone that that is in fact the position of the University. This isn’t about possessing condoms, it’s about distributing them on campus.”
While he agrees with the students that the University needs to provide better opportunities for sexual health education, Chebator said that the condom distribution in residence halls had been impeding progress.
“I agree 100 percent with them that we need to do a better job of sexual health education on campus,” Chebator said. “They’re not going to get an argument from me on that. What was somewhat interfering with the conversations we were having was the condom distribution piece.”
Jekanowski also agreed that the organization had been meeting regularly with administrators, pointing out that the Safe Sites program had been created in cooperation with the University. She felt, however, that the letter was threatening and unwarranted.
“We have worked with the administration to create Safe Sites, and we were in the middle of an email chain trying to figure out when to meet again,” Jekanowski said. “The letter came out of nowhere.”
Members of BCSSH will meet with a group of administrators in late April to continue discussions about their role on campus. Jekanowski named three things she hoped would come out of that meeting.
“First, we want no disciplinary action to be taken against the students involved,” Jekanowski said. “We want BCSSH to continue to be allowed to do the work it has done. Lastly, we want a public letter from Jack Dunn in which he rescinds his statements about BCSSH and publicly apologizes.”
Jekanowski, Chebator, and Dunn each stated their hope that the situation will not result in disciplinary action, but Chebator did note that the University has policies in place by which it will abide.
The meeting between BCSSH and administrators in DSO and Residential Life is scheduled for Apr. 29. It is unclear what policy changes, if any, may arise from the meeting, but Jekanowski emphasized that BCSSH will not change its strategies, and remains dedicated to advocating for sexual health resources and education on campus. Despite the dedication, she maintains that any significant progress in terms of policy is unlikely.
“Change probably won’t happen in the near future,” Jekanowski said. “Change is slow at BC.”