On Thursday morning, an unidentified Boston College Police Department (BCPD) officer forced Students for Sexual Health (SSH) to shut down a distribution table on College Road that was handing out free condoms and campaigning for the UGBC referendum.
The incident took place on the first day of a referendum that gives the student body the opportunity to vote on whether or not Students for Sexual Health should be allowed to distribute contraceptives and hold meetings on campus.
The officer informed the student managing the table that they needed to obtain a permit before setting up a table by BC, since the university maintains the sidewalk space.
SSH co-chair Connor Kratz, MCAS '18, said that the group contacted the City of Newton and the Newton Police department and confirmed that the area is public property. Although the space is maintained by BC, SSH was informed that a permit is not required to set up a table because it is public land.
Additionally, Newton Police said that there is no written statement or permit that The City of Newton or Newton Police can give to SSH to prevent future BCPD interference, since none is required for their activities.
SSH also said that they spoke to BCPD about the disruption, who acknowledged that the officer in question was wrong to evict the group and said that they will instruct him not to interfere in the future. The Gavel has contacted BCPD for a comment and had not received a response at the time of publishing.
However, SSH members said they were not satisfied with BCPD's response because they did not apologize for the incident and did not give assurance that it would not happen again.
When the BCPD officer approached the table, the SSH member who was present showed him a map which clearly indicated that the space was public property, but the officer rejected it.
“I was disappointed that we had to leave our spot considering we currently have no other way to reach students,” said the SSH member, who asked to be anonymous. “It’s an especially critical time for us, as we have a short window to encourage voting for our referendum.”
“I'm hoping it was just misfortune on the part of the officer,” she continued. “[I] want the policies around tabling to be known and [for] students to know they have the right to be there.”
According to SSH, there have been at least three instances in the last three years of BCPD officers attempting to shut down the group’s table and prevent them from distributing contraceptives. On each occasion, SSH said that the students present during these occurrences were distressed and intimidated by the officers’ actions.
SSH stated that they intend to file a formal complaint with both the university and the City of Newton against BCPD for the incident.
“The Students for Sexual Health recognizes and appreciates the service of the Boston College Police Department in striving to keep our community safe; however, we strongly encourage them to train and inform their officers that Students for Sexual Health has every right to have a table on CoRo,” said Kratz.
Kratz also noted the impact of the table being closed down on the group’s efforts to get the word out to students about the referendum.
“The shutdown of our table prevented us from engaging underclassmen students about voting in the referendum and providing them with free, accessible contraceptives during the limited time our student members were available to distribute,” said Kratz.
“Today's incident perfectly reflects why the Students for Sexual Health needs greater access to campus and why the student body should vote yes on the UGBC referendum,” Kratz continued. “We hope the university recognizes our democratic vote and agrees to deliberations on paving a new path forward.”
The referendum ballot will be open for students to respond until 5 p.m. on Friday. The results are scheduled to be announced by the Elections Committee at 7 p.m. on Friday.