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Students support referendum

Published: Monday, February 23, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

On the ballot last week, students were asked to choose not just between Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC) candidates, but also on a referendum organized by BC Students for Sexual Health, a group composed of student leaders from different walks of the University who came together to address perceived issues of sexual health and education. The referendum, which was only added to the ballot after receiving 1,000 signatures on a petition for undergraduate students, passed with 89.47 percent of the vote.

"I don't know if any of us were expecting such a massive outpouring of support," Rachel Lamorte, BC Students for Sexual Health member and A&S '10, said. Scott Jelinek, A&S '10, said that more people participated in the vote on the health referendum than in any other part of the ballot - 3,967 votes were cast in the UGBC presidential election, compared to 4,026 for the health referendum.

Melissa Roberts, A&S '10, said, "This, if anything, shows that students care about health on a wide spectrum. People are concerned about all issues across the board." Roberts said that available free and confidential testing for sexually transmitted infections is one of the most important issues for the University to address in a timely manner. Jelinek said that a reevaluation of health services, updates on the Web site, or hiring a health educator in an interim position are all measures that the University can easily implement to improve the quality of sexual health on campus. "They take a minimal amount of time and could have a huge impact on the community," Lamorte said.

Jelinek said that, in crafting the petition, they were careful to ask for things that they thought to be feasible. "We were worried we were going too far with some of the things," Jelinek said. He said that the whole experience has been very validating, and that they have gotten a positive response from administrators, including vice president for Student Affairs Patrick Rombalski, who has met with the referendum organizers on two occasions.

"One of my responsibilities is to introduce students to the value system of this university so that students might engage in dialogue and compare these values to their own and that of their peers," Rombalski said in an e-mail. He said there seems to be a need for more discussion of BC's Jesuit, Catholic values, before attempting any comprehensive changes. "It seems many people are familiar with the rules and are acting to change them without an equal effort to understand the richness of our values and traditions. It seems we first need a conversation on the values and that the University should help to facilitate that."

Rombalski said that the referendum will play a role in ongoing dialogues about health and sexual health on campus. He said that contraception, perhaps one of the most problematic issues raised by the referendum, is not the place to start this dialogue. "I do not believe we should be asking for contraception right now. We should be engaged in conversations on new approaches to sexual health on campus," Rombalski said.

Part of addressing the issues in the referendum will be finding a "common language and starting point," Rombalski said. "My commitment is to lead this dialogue and be open to where it leads us. I will not start with an action - allowing the distribution of contraceptives - that is clearly in conflict with this institution's values on human sexuality. But I hope we can soon being a conversation regarding these values."

Rombalski said that the Office of Student Affairs is currently undergoing a review and planning process for the future, and that this will include "everything from our mission to our specific programs, services, and interactions with students. There is little doubt that this will produce a more comprehensive and open approach to health education." Part of this process will involve students who were active in structuring the referendum. "Last July we asked our consultants to assist us with a review of our Health Center and health education approaches. This is scheduled for March. Members of the student group working on the referendum were invited to participate in this process last week," Rombalski said.

These reviews were part of University discussions before the referendum, Rombalski said, and will continue. "Therefore the referendum validates a conclusion we had reached some months ago: that we need to dedicate more time and energy to both health education and open dialogue with students regarding holistic health. Obviously this includes sexual health," he said.

Al Dea, UGBC president-elect and A&S '10, said that he is interested in meeting with UGBC president and vice president Chris Denice, CSOM '09, and Alejandro Montenegro, A&S '09, as well as members of BC Students for Sexual Health and administrators. "As you know, it passed with 89 percent of the vote, so it definitely means that there is some strong student support behind it and it's something we need to take pretty seriously. Anything related to campus safety or campus health, that's definitely something we need to be working on." He said that he has already started talks with students involved. "We're hoping to sit down with the administration and just have a discussion about this, what are our values are, and what are our teachings, and what are positive correcting steps we can take on this."

"Well for us, since that they just had the election we're going to work with Al and Alex and figure out what this means. Clearly this is something that the students spoke on and we're going to push for those concerns," Denice said. He said he would like to talk more with administrators and Jelinek as well as Dea. "We're trying to set up something this week with Al, Alex, myself, and Scott Jelinek," he said.

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