Boston College Anti-Condom Rule: Wrongly Restricting Students' Access to Contraception

Boston College administrators are poised to take disciplinary action against a group of students promoting safe sex by distributing condoms and other materials in campus dormitories. Apparently, the students in Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH) — a group not recognized by the university — are violating the "values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution" by ensuring sexually active students are safe about their practices.

Massachusetts law states that the college itself is required to offer contraception as part of its student health plan. But the campus student health center does not actually distribute condoms or any other materials that BCSSH does, despite a 2009 student vote that overwhelmingly supported expanded sexual health resources on campus. A campus spokesperson quickly shot down the vote, saying it was "nonbinding, and as a result Boston College will not be changing its policy on birth control prescription or the distribution of condoms."

Administrators have taken issue with students who are part of BCSSH for designating "Safe Sites" around campus where students can receive sexual health information and materials.

"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,'" reads the email to students living in Safe Site residents from Paul Chebator, dean of students, and George Arey, director of the Office of Residential Life. "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 email threatens disciplinary action if the students do not cease distributing condoms, lubricants, and other materials.

BCSSH chair Lizzie Jekanowski says the group interprets the college's Catholic, Jesuit tradition differently when it comes to sexual health.

"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," she said. "Young people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, have a need for and fundamental right to health care 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."

The BCSSH website contains a page where visitors can contrast the college's sexual health education resources to those of other Jesuit universities. All four universities the page lists have more comprehensive information on their websites than Boston College does.

Jekanowski added that the administration has been aware of the group's "Safe Sites" for two years and had not taken any action — or even voiced an issue with their existence — until now.

"We were very disappointed that the signatories of the letter never contacted us beforehand," she said. "We've had a very open relationship and it's been very positive. This letter was very warmongering and threatening."

While administrators complain that the group has continually refused their requests to stop its practices, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated it will take legal action if the college presses the issue.

"I believe that Boston College is violating the rights of these students by threatening disciplinary action against them," said Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Supporters from around the world can "stand with" the group or get involved with the campaign by signing this petition created by BCSSH. The group has stated it looks forward to working with more students and providing sexual health education that is lacking on campus, and also hopes to come to a reasonable compromise with the administration.

With the overwhelming support they have already received from entities like Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and Advocates for Youth, it only makes sense that Boston College administrators should get their act together and start recognizing BCSSH as an integral part of the student body.