Recently, I was assigned a group project in my public health class to research a topic relating to sexual or reproductive health. My group decided to investigate if there were differences in contraceptive distribution across Jesuit colleges.
Now why is this important? As a college student, I am surrounded by people who are sexually active on a regular basis. My mom is a physician, so I was educated about contraceptives early on in my teenage years; I was aware of the various types of contraceptives and was encouraged by my parents to approach them if I wanted to get a prescription or if I had any questions.
Coming to college, I saw that this was not always the reality for my friends; especially since this is a Jesuit university, many of my Catholic-raised friends were taught abstinence-only sex education. One of my friends is afraid to approach her mom concerning anything about contraceptives, and another is sexually active but was never educated fully, and has some misconstrued beliefs about sexual health because of this lack of education.
Many other students are sexually active but resort to only using condoms, which is better than nothing, but are afraid to go on birth control, as they do not want it to show up on their Catholic parents' insurance bill. Although this student concern about getting “parental approval” is true at other Universities, at a school that has Catholic values with a student population composed of many Catholics, many students are hit by a double whammy— not able to get contraceptive services from their parents or their university.
A little background on Santa Clara’s policies about contraceptive distribution: staff at Cowell cannot distribute condoms and are not allowed to prescribe birth control unless they determine that it is medically necessary to treat another condition. Condom distribution on campus is not allowed by groups on campus that are funded by University, due to the University’s Catholic values and Vatican stance on contraceptives.
The University’s sole reason for not providing contraceptive care is due to its Catholic values, but my research project group identifies that within the Jesuit values is a reason to support contraceptives on campus; the Jesuits believe in the “education the whole person”, which should include sexual and reproductive health, as it is a big part of who we are.
Know you may be wondering by now if these statements are the same across all Jesuit schools, are there even any differences? Although there are few differences in each University’s approach to banning contraceptives, the students’ reactions and eventual University's repercussions vary across schools.
The students at Georgetown University have been the source of major pushback to its university’s constricting laws about the distribution of contraceptives on campus. Students responded to these restrictions by forming the club Hoyas for Choice, and unaffiliated student organization, that advocates for access to condoms, other barrier methods of contraception, and comprehensive information on sexual health, pregnancy, and abortion services on campus.
Students began advocating for these services by utilizing its university's free-speech corner, a place where students are allowed to promote their own ideas without interference by the school. In addition, any Georgetown student can fill out a Google form requesting free condoms for an event or party, and can either pick them up or have them delivered; this service is funded by students, parents, alumni, and other organizations, like Planned Parenthood and the Great American Condom Campaign, to fund the purchase of these contraceptives.
This type of movement was attempted at Boston College, but the students involved received major backlash. BC Students for Sexual Health members were told that attempting to pass out condoms on campus, including in residence halls, violated Catholic values and the university’s code of conduct, which dictates that ”incidents of sexual intercourse outside the bonds of matrimony may be referred to the Student Conduct System.” Many other Catholic colleges agreed with Boston College’s decision, stating that they would also stop students from distributing condoms on campus.
DePaul University has put in place a campaign that I find particularly interesting; adopted from Loyola University in Chicago, DePaul has put in place a service called “Text Jane,” where students can text an anonymous number on Fridays from 6 to 11pm, to receive various forms of birth control, and even pregnancy tests, delivered to their door.
I would love to see one of these interventions put in place on campus, but it's hard to bring a large group of people together on this issue without forming a school-funded club, which would allow the club to use classrooms, table in Benson, or use funds to purchase resources. Due to these constructions, condom-girl has arisen; although I’ve never seen her before, condom-girl is an SCU student who stands on the street by the Bronco statue (technically not school property) and hands out condoms. I would also love to see a “Text Jane” service put in place here at Santa Clara University.
A huge thank you to my group partners, Emma Carpenter, Hannah Parish, Robyn Breynaert, Tiffany Vien, and Kaitlin Frangione for doing so much research on this topic.