Upon enrollment at Boston College, all students are automatically charged a Campus Health Fee to their tuition bill; for students residing on campus, this payment entitles them to visit Boston College Health Services to receive “primary and specialty medical care."
While this expense is not a substitute for a health insurance plan, students may still go to Health Services to get routine physical examinations, various immunizations, and receive diet and nutritional information and advice. At Health Services, all students can get screened for STIs and tested for HIV, and all women may receive pregnancy-testing services.
Now, with this cornucopia of medical services--sex-related or otherwise--in mind, BC’s contraception offerings are much less comprehensive. Here on the Heights, “because of the moral values that Boston College espouses, University Health Services, by policy, does not provide materials for the purpose of preventing conception.” In a nutshell, the policy as a whole is as follows: the University acknowledges the dangers and consequences of having sex and is available to help identify (and in some cases even remedy) the adverse situations, but it will not preempt these unfavorable health outcomes. Health Services can test for STIs and pregnancy, but they will not provide birth control itself.
Erin Barry, MCAS '16, is the president of Students for Sexual Health, an unregistered student group here at BC. The club aims to “promote healthy sexual decision making for BC students by providing necessary information and resources, facilitate informed dialogues regarding sexual health and sexuality among students, and to advocate for reform in Boston College’s sexual health policies.” The group, which receives no funding from the University, holds bi-weekly condom distributions on the public property lining College Road in an effort to advance their mission.
Barry notes that sex is “banned” on campus, and as a result, is rarely talked about outside of the context of sexual assault--one of the “bads” that may come out of sexual activity. The University fails to acknowledge any good that may come out of premarital sex as part of a healthy relationship. Because of BC’s stance against sex, Barry argues, the University “fails its students by not providing them with the resources and information they need to protect them.”
In the University’s Jesuit pursuit of “cura personalis” (care of the whole person), the administration fundamentally fails its students in the sexual health department and as a result, fails to live up to its mission. SSH's argument is that BC’s lack of university-sponsored sexual health resources perpetuates the notion that sex is shameful, and as a result creates a sort of taboo surrounding the topic, which SSH intends to remedy.
Barry’s point of view is echoed by other BC students like Bridget Norton, MCAS '18, who believes that “medicine and religion should not be combined at all; the only thing that this policy accomplishes is making it harder for people to remain healthy in the face of situations that most college kids will pursue in their time here," she says. "Also, there are lots of reasons girls need the pill other than being able to sleep with whoever, whenever they want.” Norton points out one of the major flaws in this policy: the fact that it utterly fails its main purpose of stopping kids from having sex while protecting themselves from things like pregnancy or STIs--it only makes protecting themselves harder.
Many progressive-minded students have come to consider sexual health resources on campus to be a right rather than a mere convenience to have. Blaine Brophy, MCAS '18, transferred to BC this year from Wake Forest University, and when asked about contraception on campus, Brophy recalls that “at Wake, condoms were definitely free and accessible on campus, so I was kind of surprised to see no signs of that when I transferred here.” Students have come to expect health resources on campus and expect access to contraception in the same way they expect access to a student fitness center or health clinic.
Now, while it is true that BC is a Jesuit, Catholic institution and this affiliation factors into the University's sexual health policy, contraceptive policies vary from school to school regardless of their religious affiliation.
The University of San Francisco--a Jesuit, Catholic institution like BC--has a very different view on the concept of pregnancy prevention. On the USF website, the school provides information about the use of contraception and encourages those who exercise their right to choose to be sexually active to be smart about their actions.
Like BC, the University of San Francisco realizes that its students are likely having sex, but, unlike BC, they have taken steps to educate their students on the issue, laying out descriptions of contraceptive methods, including their respective risks and failure rates. USF addresses sex on campus by providing resources “designed to promote sexual health as a state of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social well being.” With this, USF makes it clear that, from their point of view, sexual health factors into the care of the whole person.
Just down the green line from BC, at Northeastern University Health and Counseling Services students are allowed to “discuss family planning options” and clinicians are available to “prescribe most types of birth control.”
Meg Tazelaar, Northeastern University '18, explains that there is a lengthy (and sometimes expensive) process students have to go through in order to obtain contraception and that, while it is “good that it’s offered, it feels like the candy on the highest shelf at the candy shop.” Similarly, Tazelaar explains that even though it’s clear that college kids will have sex no matter what is “allowed,” there is hardly any conversation about birth control occurring on campus.
Another student, Katie Brown, Northeastern University '19, counters that the University Health Services team is “very friendly and forthcoming with information,” and students can get various forms of contraception through UHS, but like Tazelaar, notes that getting an appointment can be a hassle. Because of this obstacle, most students just go to Fenway Health--a clinic right by the Northeastern campus--to get free condoms.
Similarly, there is a clinic right by BC that students can go to in order to receive the sexual health services they seek, though it is less recognized by students than Fenway Health is at Northeastern; at the Planned Parenthood Greater Boston Health Center at 1055 Commonwealth Avenue, students are welcome to walk in or make an appointment in advance, and can be helped with or without health insurance. The staff will make it work regardless of the care you seek, whether it be men’s healthcare, women’s healthcare, STD testing or just a call to their free Sexual Health Hotline.
Even though specific policies and services offered do vary between universities, the issue of birth control and other forms of contraception being regarded as taboo or the 'elephant on campus' is present across the board. Especially here at BC, students feel voiceless in advocating for the care they need, or they turn a blind eye to the administration’s assertion that contraceptive services and the University's Jesuit values are irreconcilable. Furthermore, in a time when Planned Parenthood's existence is being threatened as well, contraception and safe sex itself are growing increasingly difficult to come by.