Boston College Threatens Students Giving Away Birth Control, Risking Its Jesuity Identity
As a student at the first and oldest Jesuit Catholic university in the nation, Georgetown University, it is not uncommon for me to come into contact with inquiries regarding the "conservatism," "strictness," and even the "antiquity" of my school's atmosphere. "But, what's it like at a Catholic school? How religious is it?" Fair questions, usually to which I usually respond: yes, if you're looking for a religious presence, it is certainly there; but if you aren't, the only inescapable extent of religious influence you'll encounter is a crucifix adorned at the head of every classroom and a distinct lack of available contraceptives.
The Catholic religion believes contraception is wrong because it violates the design God built into the human race, His "natural law". Scriptures and apostolic traditions illustrate a history of penalty and condemnation for vainly damaging or wasting "the divine institution for the propagation of man" (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2). Priests and nuns across the world preach against the use of birth control with arguments based in religious texts. Anti-contraception ideology is thus a large part of the Catholic identity.
Accordingly, on March 15, school board officials at Boston College threatened to take disciplinary measures against a group of students who were distributing condoms out of their dorm rooms, a violation, they claimed, of the university's mission as a Roman Catholic institution.
In the weeks following the accusatory letter, many actors from different capacities have sprouted to take opinionated, lexical stakes in the situation. Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney at ACLU of Massachusetts called college officials' actions "entirely inappropriate" and asserted that she's "up to a fight, if they are up to a fight." Tensions have risen.
But I fear, however, that what is getting lost in the hoopla surrounding the university's threats is less the validity of either side of the argument and more the lack of transparency between the school and its student body that its Catholic identity is enforcing. Additionally, the situation has inherent contradictions for the Jesuit identity in regards to complete education.
At Georgetown, there is a designated location of about 500 square feet reserved for absolute and complete free speech. Within this area, student groups such as H*yas For Choice (which is prohibited from using the school's "Hoya" name because of its conflicts with the Christian identity) and LGBTQ groups can convene and advertise; it's where H*yas For Choice is even allowed to give out condoms to students passing by.
Of course, issues still abound regarding "Red Square," considering complete exercise of 'free speech' is limited to one particular section of campus. But the transparency between the students and the school is still tangible: students have their area of dissent and of advocacy, and the school has theirs.
So despite chairwoman Lizzie Jekanowski of Boston College Students for Sexual Health's suggestion that the college administration had been aware for years of the services students were providing to one another and yet had never taken action against them, the illustrations used to describe the network of health services amongst the student body sound more to me like an underground railroad situation than anything else. "A network of dorm rooms"? "Safe Sites"? This form of repression from the school administration is completely backwards and destructive, not to mention unethical.
Boston College, like almost every other Jesuit university in the nation, grounds itself in the Christian philosophy of care for the whole person, Cura Personalis. Jesuits pride themselves in creating Christian communities where their members "listen, share, [and] challenge." The root of all of these educative verbs is transparency. Without a comfort level to openly discuss contrasting opinions or beliefs between parties, separation between the two will only deepen.
Boston College's administration is undoubtedly entitled to its beliefs, as are their students. But by cloaking the cleavages between the students and the school's mission by masking any attempt at reconciliation behind the façade of an impersonal email or letter, the university community jeopardizes its potential for understanding and progression. It jeopardizes its potential for education.