Marion Halftermeyer, Copy Editor, contributed to this report.
The news that Boston College Students for Sexual Health was threatened with, and may face, disciplinary action from the administrators if it continues the 'Safe Sites' program, a network that distributes condoms to Boston College students, has gone viral. The "Holy War” or "Condom Clash," as it has been dubbed by news sources, between university administrators and BCSSH members was all over national, and even international, media as well as social networks during Easter Break.
CNN's piece "Condoms on campus? No thanks, we're Catholic, college says," published March 27 – just days after the news broke – received 994 comments. The Boston Globe has published several pieces over the past few days about the tension between BCSSH and the BC administrators. (Read: "Boston College Condom Clash Continues")
The news went national when major publications such as the Huffington Post, NBC news, New York Magazine, and The Washington Post covered the story. BBC's report of it officially made it international news.
It's even been all over BC Confessions on Facebook.
The clash is still on-going.
Distribution of condoms on Ash Wednesday
Jack Dunn, spokesman for Boston College, said to CNN that he was given a condom when he walked out of Ash Wednesday church services. This, according to Dunn, made him feel that the situation had gotten out of hand despite the students' history of handing out condoms for several years now.
If the students had been more discrete, perhaps none of this would have happened, he said.
In response to Dunn's statement, BCSSH wrote a press release addressing the situation.
The letter stated that “none of [BCSSH’s] actions have changed at all in the past four years. Indeed, BCSSH has consistently hosted its condom distributions on the sidewalks of College Road between McElroy Commons and Roncalli Residence Hall.” The location is the public area of the City of Newton and therefore not considered on campus. It is a half mile away from St. Ignatius Church but a five-minute walk from a chapel on Upper Campus.
"These public distributions, which BC administration has been aware of for four years – in fact some administrators have visited us while we distribute – are a separate initiative from Safe Sites," said Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH and A&S'13. Jack Dunn, according to Jekanowski and BCSSH, has cited their public distributions as the reason for the administration's recent actions targeted at the 'Safe Sites' program.
"His response has been inconsistent with the facts, and he has made boldfaced lies about our activity," Jekanowski said.
The debate of whether distribution of condoms on a Catholic campus is a student right or a violation of the institution's Catholic values sent waves among both Boston College community, other Catholic universities, and the public.
Professor of Applied Development Psychology at Boston College Jacqueline Lerner and Deborah Levenson, a professor in the History Department at Boston College, wrote a letter to the Boston Globe expressing their support for BCSSH and the ongoing conversation. The letter was cosigned by 11 professors at Boston College.
“Discouraging contraceptives only leads to unsafe sex. As we all know, one possible consequence of this is the life-threatening disease HIV-AIDS, and another is unwanted pregnancy. Part of our role as BC professors, as well as parents, relatives, and friends, is to support young people in their attempts to avoid tragedy,” the letter read.
The Boston College chapter of American Association of University Professors has also publicly stated its support for BCSSH. "The issues regarding sexual health raised by BCSSH are important to the welfare of our students who come from a variety of faith traditions; taking disciplinary action against them on such matters of individual conscience sends the wrong message to the campus community, alumni, and prospective students," it read.
At the same time, the American Civil Liberties Union, or ALCU, has said that the Boston College administrators' decision might violate students’ civil rights. “BC is saying that they’re a private university, so we can do what we want,” said Sarah Wunsch, staff lawyer at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “But that’s actually not true,” she said. Wunsch cited the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act of 1979 which prohibits interference with civil rights by private as well as public entities, as reported by the Boston Globe.
Other Catholic universities such as the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown University, Providence College and Catholic University announced their open support for Boston College’s position on the issue. “One of the teachings of our faith is that contraception is morally unacceptable,” said Victor Nakas, a spokesman for Catholic University to the Boston Globe. “Since condoms are a form of contraception, we do not permit their distribution on campus," he said. College of the Holy Cross and Stonehill College have also publicly stated their agreement with BC's policies.
Georgetown University's (also a Jesuit institution) support of BC's side is interesting as some of its students have sided with BCSSH. H*yas for Choice, a student group at Georgetown similar to BCSSH, has publicly supported BCSSH on their Facebook page, in addition to signing BCSSH's support form "I Stand with BCSSH."
While BC Confessions is getting a lot of attention from current and prospective students about the "condom clash," a heated discussion among alumni on Boston College's Facebook page has started – some in support of BC, others in support of BCSSH.
"Stop students from passing out condoms! Really? I am a BC alum and I am ashamed of the school taking this action. You're promoting an action that puts students at higher risk for pregnancy and STDs. This policy needs to be changed immediately. Embarrassing..." Russell Denney posted.
Erin Fox thinks otherwise. "I commend you for you stand and reprimand of this student organization. BC IS a Catholic institution. No one is forced to attend the school or mass but as a Catholic institution, it should follow the precepts of the Catholic faith,” Fox said.
"I am an alumna of BC, daughter of a former professor and a Law alumna, sister of two alumni and aunt of two more. We are loyal Eagles, but today I am ashamed of my alma mater. BC's own Health Services website highlights the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. Students who choose to help their peers avoid STDs and pregnancy should be lauded not reprimanded," Nancy O'Brien posted in disagreement with BC's actions.
BC alumni and founders of BCSSH, Alicia Johnson, Lindsey Hennawi and Scott Jelinek also reached out and published an article in which they state that “since the university isn’t willing to provide sexual health information and resources to its students, who better to step up and do so than students themselves? We are so proud of the students of BCSSH who continue to fight for health-care access on the BC campus.”
In response to the threat of disciplinary action, they said, "Expulsion. From a major American university. In the 21st century." The three prior BC students are now in careers involving health education and added "we strongly condemn the administration’s abrupt and cowardly interference with students’ attempts to educate their peers and provide them with the tools they need to lead healthy lives."
BCSSH uses publicity to advance causes
BCSSH is continuing to promote its importance in providing sexual health education and seeks help from the public. The group is circulating an online petition via Facebook and Twitter called "Support Student Health." The petition is an appeal to Boston College to provide a Sexual Health Resource Center on campus that would provide sexual health educational programming, information and supplies, along with health initiatives. Only BC-related people, such as current students, alumni, faculty and staff, can sign this petition.
A second form being circulated called "I Stand with BCSSH" is for non-BC affiliated people to sign to show support for the student group. Parents, organizations, and students at other colleges have all showed their support for the group in this way.