University Addresses Dispute Over Condom Distribution
Boston College is engaged in a controversy over condom distribution on the BC campus that has caught the attention of the University community and several national media outlets.
The issue involves an unrecognized student group called BC Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH), which has led an effort to make condoms readily available to students on campus. The group has clashed with administrators from Student Affairs who say public distribution of condoms is in conflict with Catholic values and the University’s code of conduct.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, BCSSH chairwoman Elizabeth Jakanowski ’13 said she sees distribution of contraceptives on and off campus to be within the group’s rights and in accordance with BC’s Jesuit mission. “We see it as very intrinsic of being a Jesuit that we provide these resources and affirm the whole person,” said Jakanowski.
Dean of Students Paul Chebator said in an interview that while students are free to choose to possess condoms, their public distribution on campus is in conflict with BC’s Jesuit, Catholic mission.
The issue surfaced after Chebator and Director of Residential Life George Arey sent a letter to students living in BC dorm rooms, which the group designated as “Safe Sites,” advising them that condom distribution from their rooms violates University policy. “We call your attention to the BC Student Guide which indicates that BC students have ‘The responsibility to respect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution,’” the letter said. “The distribution of condoms is not congruent with our values and traditions.”
Upon receipt of the letter, students from BCSSH launched a media campaign in which they claimed that they “were never directly asked to stop distributing condoms,” a contention that Chebator and Arey reject. “In every meeting, students were told that distributing condoms in residence halls on campus was against University policy and that they needed to stop distributing condoms if they wanted to continue working with the University,” said Chebator. “When the students did not respond to our repeated warnings, we issued them a letter of warning on March 15.”
Boston College contends that there are certain commitments that it is called to uphold as a Jesuit, Catholic university. “Students who choose to enroll at BC are asked to be respectful of these commitments,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn. “They are free to disagree with them, but they are asked to be respectful of them and to adhere to the code of conduct that governs all students.”
Administrators at Catholic colleges and universities such as Georgetown, Holy Cross and Notre Dame said that BC’s policies mirror their own and demonstrate a collective commitment to Catholic values.
Student critics of BCSSH, who have launched an online petition and letter campaign, believe the group demonstrates a lack of respect for BC’s Catholic identity and school policies.
“It’s not just a matter of Catholic teaching,” said Ethan Mack ’15 in an interview with the National Catholic Register. “It is a privilege for any of us to live on campus, and they are using that privilege to violate school policy, which conforms to Church teaching. You can’t ask for the privilege of living on private property, and then flagrantly violate the policies of that property.”
Currently, leaders from BCSSH, Campus Ministry and University Mission and Ministry are meeting in the hope of reaching an understanding that has eluded students and administrators in years past. Administrators say that they hope through honest and constructive dialogue, both sides can attempt to gain a better understanding of their respective concerns, and that the issue can be appropriately resolved.
Clough Professor of History James O’Toole said such controversial discussions among students and administrators are not uncommon and have a longstanding history at BC and other Catholic colleges and universities.
“During the Vietnam War era, there was considerable debate on college campuses, including this one, about the presence of ROTC,” said O’Toole. “For a Catholic institution like BC, the dilemma was this: did ROTC — even though it provided financial aid to students and thus enabled them to attend school — constitute something that ran contrary to Catholic teachings on war and peace?
“Later, when the Church in the 21st Century initiative began, one of its key ideas was that universities are the places where the Church does its thinking. Catholic universities are places to explore the roles and responsibilities of the various members of the Church, and where the views of lay people on compelling issues of the day can or should be taken into account. No matter the issue, the discussion itself is valuable.”