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Dignity for all Students and Their Health

Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH) is committed to improving sexual health education and resources for all students at BC. We seek to foster dialogue and provide comprehensive information about sexual health, as well as to campaign for policy reform. We engage with the health of the whole person: emotional, social, environmental, physical, spiritual, and mental, in order to empower students to make informed and healthy decisions.

We do not do these things in spite of our place at a Jesuit institution, but in keeping with it. It is expressly because we have the privilege of attending a 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. In that regard, we provide condoms and other resources directly to students, we run programming, such as Sex and the Soul, that explores the relationship between human sexuality and personal spirituality, and we work with the administration to understand the University's positions on these issues and push for policy reform in the best interest of the students. In short, BCSSH respects and works within the framework of BC's Catholic tradition, but we refuse to accept that it must invariably bar us from pursuing an open dialogue and concrete action around this issue. A University dedicated to fostering men and women for others simply cannot consider itself and the mission of protecting students' health mutually exclusive.

As an executive board member of BCSSH, these were the points I tried to discuss with a Jesuit and resident minister who we encountered during last Friday's condom distribution when he told me that my participation in the distribution was degrading to the dignity of both myself and other students, that it – the distribution and the act of protected, consensual sex itself – made any who participate less of a person and less human. He further elaborated that we female volunteers were making it easy for men to use us, as if sex were an inherently misogynistic act which a woman could not be empowered to pursue for herself, and in which there could not possibly exist mutual consent and respect.

Having never before been accused of degrading students' dignity, nor told I am less than human, I was taken aback by this attack on my freedom to educate students and my personal freedom in making informed decisions related to sexuality. Yet, what shocked me most was when he began to shout at students with whom we interacted. "You're better than that!" he would say to students who accepted condoms. And when a student declined our offer, he would laud them: "Good for you! You have dignity!"

As this interaction continued, I watched student after student appear to take interest in receiving sexual health resources, but shy away because of his comments. These students turned down life-saving health materials because they were intimidated by a University figure employed to support and guide them. Whether this was his intent, this Jesuit's actions directly infringed not just upon students' personal comfort, but also their very freedom to make decisions for themselves. In so doing, he jeopardized students' health and safety.

Is this the culture we want for our students – one of intimidation, fear, and judgment? BCSSH has always acted with respect, both in our approach to University administration and with regard to the student body, in whom we recognize a plurality of views and experiences. We acted respectfully toward our protester as well, inviting him to speak with us. The behavior we saw in return, however, was anything but respectful of students, their health needs, or their freedom of choice. BC should foster a community that empowers and supports its students to make healthy decisions for themselves, not one that judges or endangers them.

After last Friday's encounter, I am more than ever committed to the BCSSH mission. I realize just how great a need there is for open dialogue, a University culture more accepting of students' personal choices, and our efforts to promote students' ability to make those choices in a healthy manner. This Jesuit accused us of being "animals" who ignore the consequences of our actions. But BCSSH is here precisely because we know the consequences of a student body that is not provided adequate sexual health information and resources – like how, for example, one in four college students has a sexually transmitted infection. With that in mind, we cannot afford to judge or intimidate students. Our health and safety are too important.

Please consider this letter an open offer to the BC community to engage in conversation and meaningful dialogue. We hope that as a community we can respect students' rights to pursue choices about their health in a judgment-free environment. Human dignity and respect for the self means nothing without respect for others.


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Thu Nov 18 2010 19:56
In linking around articles on the College Media Network, I came across a letter to the editor, written by one reverend Chris Collins, in response to accusations which respected his anonymity (he was neither named nor described in the original article) of him bullying students away from accepting free condoms on the BC campus.

I believe that condoms are a good way to help sexually active individuals protect themselves and others. The reverend's response has him coming off as anti-condom and generally anti-contraceptive. Using condoms, in his words, "inherently demeans both the gift of sexuality and the people who choose to use it," with "it" ambiguously referring to either condoms or the gift of sexuality. His rationale is that providing contraception is akin to, "implicitly treating... fellow students as if they are animals, incapable of making rational, responsible, loving – and therefore human – choices"; so to reverend Chris, college students can't use condoms AND be rational or loving.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that the reverend's opinion on this matter was manufactured. Religious texts are big in the area of no contraception, too; the biblical tale of Onan makes this fairly clear. Historically, this is due to the high infant mortality rate which plagued our species (and still does in the third world) until just about the last fifty to one hundred years, dropping precipitously with the advent of heavy industry and scientifically-studied medicine. Before these social breakthroughs, plenty of kids needed to be had, so that the genes had a fighting chance of being passed on. So texts written before the turn of the previous millennium would certainly have been opposed to anything that wastes sperm ('spilling his seed') or prevents pregnancy; any contraceptives.

However, a condom is not just a contraceptive; it's also a prophylactic. Prophylactics prevent disease transmission, which is good for a sexual partner who's infected and even better for the one who isn't, not to mention for the whole of humanity for having fewer carriers around. The reverend is anti-condom. So is this man telling us that having sex without protection is more humanizing despite the risks, and thus better, and therefore implicitly condoning it? At first it seems that way. However, I'm pretty certain he was driving at a slightly different point. Although he skirts around saying as much, reverend Chris has said nothing to disavow his advocacy of that great failure of rational thought: abstinence only education.

The reverend appears to have two core values on this issue, although he only explicitly states a half-value:

1: Condoms rob us of our humanity (explained) because they give us means to and therefore make us want to have sex (implied).
2: Sex is for married folks only; unwed folks should abstain. (implied)

Here's the skinny, folks: reverend Chris is deluded. He believes in the sanctity of marriage, and believes that anyone who has sex before marriage... well, shouldn't. That's just dandy and fantastic with me! I approve of his right to believe that 'til he's blue in the face. Problem is, THERE IS GOING TO BE UNWED SEX WHETHER YOU WANT THERE TO BE OR NOT. And his actions of goading, guilting and shaming students out of free condoms as described in the original article may have lead to someone who WOULD have had protected sex having UNPROTECTED sex.

Biblical stories and values were set before most of the STDs and STIs today came around, so they didn't take into account the different uses and benefits for contraceptives and prophylactics. However, since people like reverend Chris are now espoused these values in a world that IS rife with STDs and STIs, this point is absolutely irrelevant. There needs to be an increase in sex education, MOSTLY FROM PARENTS, so that teenagers and young adults can know the facts about and options for and repercussions of having sex before they actually do. Abstinence only education and fear-mongering have NEVER WORKED in helping people make healthy decisions. All they do is suppress and demonize entirely natural desires and urges until a rash decision and/or scarring incident occurs. There's no way around the fact that being anti-condom is being anti-disease prevention. To insist that unwed people in their sexual prime shouldn't -- or worse, to believe that they DON'T -- have sexual contact of any kind is short-sighted and dangerous for the American public's welfare. This presumption plus its resulting mindset and actions are insane and irresponsible, and anybody who abides by them cannot call themselves a mentor to today's youth.

Keone Zirkle
University of Hawai'i at Manoa graduate, c/o 2007

Mon Oct 25 2010 16:39
The essence of our Dignity as Human Persons is found within our complementary nature as male and female that has been endowed to us from God for we have been created in His Image out of Love. Our emotional, social, enviromental, physical, spiritual, and mental health depends on recognizing that The Truth of Love is authentic Love. To deny God's intention for Sexual Love is to exchange authentic Love with a counterfeit. Love is not possessive nor does it serve to manipulate.
Thu Oct 21 2010 21:16
This person has no place representing a Jesuit university in any regard. Congratulations to the Jesuit who gave witness to the Gospel of Life that day!
Wed Oct 20 2010 22:00
What is wrong with this person??? How ignorant can you be? Obviously this person has done little to educate himself on Catholic teaching. Boston College has likely done even less. To the writer- look up some arguments about why condoms are failing in Africa. Try thinking large scale and without letting your hormones get in the way. You'll find the Church has a solid argument.
Tue Oct 19 2010 15:25
I don't see how it is your "right" to distribute materials on the grounds of a Catholic university, particularly when those materials are in direct conflict with the Church's teachings on human sexuality and Morality. Have you not heard that he created them man and woman and he called the two to become one flesh. As St. Paul said "For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church." The one flesh union points us to the marriage of christ on his church. Can you say that artificially contracepted sex point to that?
A great big Hooah to the Jesuit that stoood up to you and all those that were being tricked by your propaganda.
-Steve Curran
Mon Oct 18 2010 18:04
BC is a CATHOLIC University. The use of Artificial Contraception is against Church Teaching. Distribution of free artificial contraception ON THE CAMPUS OF A *CATHOLIC* UNIVERSITY does not foster virtuous and chaste behavior. Like it or not, sex outside of marriage is against Catholic teaching. Your mission would be more in line with Catholic Teaching if you were to sponsor Theology of the Body discussions and dialogue about promoting chaste living. The Jesuit in question was not out of line in the least. Your stance that 'if you can't be good, be careful' might be well intended, but handing out free condoms on campus totally crosses the line. It's no different than offering an alcoholic a drink. The alcoholic knows they shouldn't partake. Just because one may feel 'empowered' as you say to make certain choices, doesn't mean they should.
Thu Oct 14 2010 13:49
How does distributing materials which enable fornication provide for the spiritual health of a person? Doesn't it do the exact opposite - harm one's soul for physical pleasure?

St. Ignatius insists that the end for which we were created is the salvation of our soul. Anything that brings us further from that goal should be rejected.

Whoever this Jesuit is - good for him! Thanks be to God that he will stand up to evil, even when such a stance is unpopular.

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