Boston College cracked down on ‘Safe Sites,’ threatening disciplinary action if the sites were not shut down immediately, via an official letter by email March 15.
As of yet, no disciplinary action has been taken against any of the students involved, according to Lizzie Jekanowski, Chair of BC Students for Sexual Health and A&S’13. She said that BCSSH will work to ensure that there is no risk present for the students “who are simply fulfilling a student need on campus.”
Safe Sites are meant to provide access to free sexual health resources, such as condoms and information to all students. The sites are run by students out of their dorm rooms in campus residence halls through BC Students for Sexual Health, a student group that advocates for sexual health education and resources for students at BC. The group is not officially recognized by BC and is therefore not a registered student organization.
The letter, signed by Dean of Students Paul Chebator and Director of Residential Life George Arrey, was sent to all the students living in the rooms listed as Safe Sites on BCSSH’s website, www.bcssh.com/safesites. It cited that the “distribution of condoms on campus is not in concert with the mission of Boston College as a Catholic and Jesuit university.”
The letter pointed to the BC Student Guide in that BC students have the responsibility to respect the values and traditions of BC as a Catholic and Jesuit institution and that distributing condoms on campus was in direct conflict with this responsibility (click here to see where this responsibility is located in the guide).
Jekanowski said that BCSSH was aware of this responsibility as were all the students running the Safe Sites. The students are required to sign a waiver form upon becoming a Safe Site acknowledging the risks involved, including the risk of disciplinary action, and the BC policies they could be violating.
The administrators said in the letter that should they find out that students are continuing to distribute condoms on campus there would be further disciplinary action taken by the university.
“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,” said Jekanowski.
Jekanowski said that BCSSH has a right to exist to fill the void that BC leaves in refusing to provide sexual health information and resources to its students as a part of its health services.
“Young people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, have a need for and fundamental right to healthcare,” 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,” she said.
BCSSH will be meeting with Chebator and Arrey along with some other BC administrators about this matter at the end of April. In the meantime, BCSSH has also been in contact with Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. Wunsch said she believes that BC is violating the students’ rights by threatening disciplinary action.
The Safe Sites are continuing as they were before, but the students have taken down the infamous Safe Site logo that demarcated their rooms as Safe Sites, Jekanowski said. Students can find the list of Safe Sites at www.bcssh.com/safesites.
Jekanowski said that the group was initially surprised at the administration’s actions and then ultimately disappointed.
“Over past few years we have worked hard to create a positive relationship, especially with signatories. We always keep them up to date with what we are doing or working on,” she said. Contacting BCSSH as a group rather than contacting the individual students, she said, would have been an action much more appreciated by the group.
Safe Sites have been around for four years now; it was one of the first programs BCSSH created after its inception in 2009. According to Jekanowski, the administration has known all along. This is why the administration’s sudden decision to send out disciplinary warnings–especially without first initiating conversation with BCSSH–comes as a shock.
But Jekanowski said that the group would like to use the discussions as an opportunity to reaffirm the work BCSSH does and its importance and to strengthen their relationship with the administration.
“We’ve really had a great relationship with the administration and many of the administrators have been supportive of our work on campus unofficially, and even of our work as student leaders,” Jekanowski said.
“I find it troublesome of future relations with BCSSH and the administration if they feel they can’t reach out to have an honest and open conversation about what is happening in terms of sexual health here on campus,” Jekanowski said.
She said she hopes that the discussions with the administration will only continue the positive relationship BCSSH has built with BC administrators.
BCSSH was founded in 2009 with the support of 90 percent of the student body who voted yes in response to a referendum on the Undergraduate Government of BC ballot for that year asking if BC students wanted more sexual health information and resources. “UGBC saw the largest voter turnout in years, and more students voted for the question than they did for the president and vice president,” Jekanowski said, who joined as a freshman and is now one of the only remaining founding members.
The Safe Sites provide female condoms, lubricant, and comprehensive information for students’ sexual health that is inclusive of all sexual orientations and consensual decision-making, in addition to condoms. The group is able to provide the resources for free due to funding by Advocates for Youth, condoms donated by the Great American Condom Campaign, and other supplies and support from Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
In addition to its Safe Site program, BCSSH holds monthly distributions where they hand out male condoms to students walking by Upper Campus. The condoms are attached to quarter sheets that provide information on how to access more resources or information.
“We also do advocacy work to change policy,” Jekanowski added.
BCSSH’s current yearlong project has been to collect signatures to petition and advocate for a sexual health resource center on-campus—much like the Office of Health Promotion or Women’s Resource Center.
The petition asks that the university satisfy four requests through creating a sexual health resource center: to provide contraceptive access on campus including the availability of Plan B; to provide free and comprehensive sexual transmitted infection testing on campus; to provide comprehensive sexual health education, information and resources on campus; and to instill a positive sexual decision making educational program that is inclusive of all sexual orientations and preferences.
“We want to emphasize that this is a crucial issue on campus and how much students recognize the need for BC to care for all of their health, not just the health BC decides it wants to provide,” Jekanowski said.