It’s homecoming weekend at Fordham University and while everyone is buzzing about the impending football game and the school’s President’s Ball, a group of students has different intentions for the upcoming events. Students were surprised to find condoms and a note simply stating “Students deserve safety” taped to doors of the bathrooms at the President’s Ball. As most students are aware, Fordham is a Jesuit institution. Fordham’s policy on contraception follows that of the Catholic Church, which states that the use of contraceptives is strictly prohibited. Knowing this, it is doubtful that the University sponsored the handout of condoms on Fordham property. It was later made public that a student-organized group, Students for Sex and Gender Equality and Safety (SAGES), was behind the distribution of condoms in the bathrooms (Scharfenberger). According to the group’s Tumblr page, they are “dedicated to action-driven social justice initiatives that fight for the well-being of every student’s mind, body, and spirit,” specifically regarding student’s sexual health and gender equality (“SAGES Coalition”). SAGES are looking to start discussion on campus about the lack of access to contraception, and within that, how contraception is a right all students should have. This discussion is important because the student body’s health is at risk due to the absence of free contraception and necessary dialogue about sexual health. It is true that Fordham has a responsibility to uphold its beliefs and policies; however, any university needs to understand that the health of its students should be the utmost concern on any campus.
Students that decide to come to Fordham University usually understand that they are enrolling at a Catholic-Jesuit institution. This means that the university follows the church’s teachings and morals to guide and educate its students in hopes that they leave as faithful, socially-aware citizens. In general, Catholic ideals are a key aspect of both the academic and social components of the University. These ideals are extremely apparent in the Fordham community: the campus ministry is constantly promoting retreats in the student center, regular masses are available, and even the constant ringing of the chapel bells serves as a reminder of the religious presence. There is no lack of a religious appearance on campus and students can see this from their first visit. Some might say that students should be aware that because Fordham is a Catholic institution, they cannot be offered the same facilities and services as other non-religious schools, specifically contraceptives.
The church has had a longstanding opinion on the matter of contraception, which according to Catholic.com includes “sterilization, condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus (withdrawal method), the Pill and any similar methods” that “proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (Brom). The church traditionally believes that a couple, once married, should rely on the Natural Family Planning method in lieu of birth control. All in all, this means that no contraception in any shape or form is available on a Jesuit campus, including other sexual health services, such as a clinic where STD testing is available or a place to freely discuss safe sex. Furthermore, in accordance with Catholic tradition, it is understandable that Fordham would not allow contraception, since providing contraceptives would, in a way, imply that the University was allowing sex before marriage on campus. All of this is true and reasonable based on Catholic beliefs, but Fordham does not seem to prioritize the idea that students’ health should be at the center of every decision the University makes. Fordham’s response to this issue remains traditional and many would go as far as to say old-fashioned.
Fordham’s mission statement on the school’s website states that the university “provides a place where religious traditions may interact with each other and with contemporary cultures.” (“Fordham University Mission Statement”). That being said, many students on campus would agree that these ‘contemporary cultures’ are actually not being properly interacted with. Fordham’s current student body is more progressive than ever, while comprising a large percent of religious students. According to a poll conducted by SAGES, 68% of students disagree with Fordham’s policy restricting contraceptives and of the 65 Catholic students who were asked, 78% either strongly or somewhat disagreed with the policy (“SAGES Coalition”). Even the students who are Catholic are for advancing the school’s policy on contraception so that it is more suitable for the twenty-first century. It is apparent that Fordham is using its religious ties to hide from change and to ultimately keep from progressing its ideals. Additionally, solutions have been brought forth to address this exact issue so that Fordham could resolve this problem and benefit the student body as a whole.
In an attempt to abide by the traditional values of religious institutions like Fordham, a compromise was brought forward under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to address this issue. As seen in a recent article from The Washington Post, Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school, went to federal court over the issue of providing contraception on its campus. The article highlights the compromise ACA offers, which allows a Catholic institution to stand by its beliefs while allowing students’ birth control to be provided and paid for. The act states that all the school would have to do is sign a form stating its religious affiliation, and that therefore it cannot provide its students with birth control because it goes against the school’s beliefs (Barnes). This would then allow insurance companies, third parties unaffiliated with the university and its values, to provide students’ birth control. However, some religious institutions, such as Wheaton College, have refused to take this compromise, because the school believes the act still goes against its ideals. Justice Sonia Sotomayer countered Wheaton College’s argument stating that its refusal “risks depriving hundreds of Wheaton’s employees and students of their legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage” (Barnes). Another example can be found at the Catholic institution, University of Notre Dame. In an article written for USA TODAY, a Notre Dame sophomore responds to her school’s refusal to accept the ACA compromise. She explains that it would be understandable for her school to not directly pay for student’s contraception, however “the compromise is a perfect balance that allows the university to stand by its Catholic beliefs while giving students and faculty a chance to receive the same healthcare rights as everybody else in the nation” (Lee). This student is stating that the university needs to step back and consider more than just religious constraints. Students’ health is being compromised and although these students chose to come to these religious institutions, they believe they deserve the right to affordable and effective health care. As SAGES states on the group’s Tumblr page, students have the right to receive birth control; therefore, refusing it to students is a breach of human rights. Overall, this issue is being addressed on a larger scale, but to advance this cause, smaller communities such as religious institutions like Fordham, need to comprehend the problem, and work to find a solution that works for both the school and their students.
Since the infamous condom handout during homecoming weekend, the discussion of contraception on Fordham’s campus has been much more evident. Once SAGES outed themselves and their identity was made public, their presence on campus has been constant. The group is looking for a solution to the problem of no contraception and wants students to join their cause. Most recently, the organization rounded up 1,100 signatures on their petition, which demanded sexual health reform at Fordham. They then posted this petition to the president of the school, Father McShane’s office door, stating their encouraged modifications to the school’s policy pertaining to sexual health. This is just one of the many efforts the group is exercising to make the reforms they feel are necessary for the university to improve students’ overall health.
The alterations SAGES believes will solve the lack of sexual health awareness on Fordham’s campus includes: free birth control, STD testing, a ‘Free Speech Zone’ which will allow non-judgmental discussion of proper sexual health, free condoms in communal areas, and services such as child care for students starting families (Winer). Aside from SAGES’s improvements, in 2012 the University provided the first off-campus birth control clinic organized by its law students. In a Los Angeles Times article, it was noted that Fordham law student, Bridgette Dunlap, arranged the clinic to help female students who were having trouble accessing birth control prescriptions. The article stated that some students explained that they take birth control for medical issues such as Endometriosis. These women were unable to receive the proper medication they needed, and were discouraged to look for outside medical services because they were already paying so much for Fordham’s health insurance (Susman). As Fordham students, these women should not be forced to look for other places to find the medicine they need to remain healthy. College students have tests, homework, internships, and jobs to also worry about. Therefore, a medical clinic specifically designed to address student’s sexual health and provide them with their needed prescriptions is imperative.
Fordham University has the responsibility as both an academic and Catholic institution to provide its students with proper health services and an overall safe community. All together, it is clearly evident that resolutions are available to solve this issue. It is time for more students to realize that they do have a right to contraception on their campus, no matter its religious affiliation. Overall, awareness is key, and with organizations such as SAGES currently on campus, there is hope for a promising future. Whether it’s an anonymous condom drop or just bringing the discussion of safe sex to campus, all can have an impact. With all the precedence Fordham places on safety, it should be expected that that would include students’ safety with regard to sexual health. Simply put, “Students deserve safety,” and we should not stop until that is attained (Scharfenberger).
Barnes, Robert. “Supreme Court Sides with Christian College in Birth Control Case.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 3 July 2014. Web. 08 Nov. 2014.
Lee, Hailey. “Debate Rages over Contraception Coverage in Religious Universities.” USA TODAY College. USA TODAY, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
SAGES Coalition, “Why Fight?.” fordhamsages.tumblr.com. Tumblr, 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
Scharfenberger, Kimberly. “Students Flout Fordham Policy, Hand out Condoms at University Events.” The Cardinal Newman Society. Cardinal Newman Society, 25 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Susman, Tina. “Birth Control Hard to Come by at Fordham University.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
Winer, Canton. “Anonymous Condom-dropping Protest Group Goes Public, Delivers Petition.” USA TODAY College. USA Today, 4 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.