Fordham University students demanded reform of university policies regarding contraceptives, free speech and sexual health in a petition signed by over 1,100 students and submitted to university president Fr. Joseph McShane, S.J. on Nov. 3.
Located in the Bronx borough of New York City, the Jesuit university prohibits the distribution of contraceptives to its students, just as Georgetown does. Unlike Georgetown, Fordham does not even permit unaffiliated student groups, like H*yas for Choice, to distribute condoms on campus.
Spearheaded by Students for Sex & Gender Equality and Safety, the petition demanded that condoms be accessible in the university health center, or that the university allow student groups to distribute condoms on campus; that the budget allocate resources for pregnant women and childcare; that Fordham institute a policy of gender-neutral housing, in which every individual student can elect which gender he or she wants to live with; and that the university change its parietal policies, which ban members of the opposite sex from being in a dorm room together after 3:30 a.m., which the group called “paternalistic, infantilizing and heteronormative.”
Other demands of the group include access to free and confidential birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases, gynecology services at the health center, sex-positive programming for freshmen and the creation of free speech zones in which students can demonstrate on any issue of their choosing without permission from the university administration.
“All we’re asking for is that the university change its policies to reflect what students really want for their health,” SAGES representative Rachel Field, a senior at Fordham, said.
Prior to the petition, members of the group had been anonymously distributing condoms to Fordham students through “condom drops” at school dances and other events. After taping the petition to McShane’s office door, SAGES shed its anonymity and publically demonstrated on Fordham’s campus.
Senior Vice President of Student Affairs at Fordham Jeffrey Gray said that although the university welcomes open dialogue, the Catholic Church’s position prevents the school from embracing contraceptives.
“We are nonetheless committed to the teachings of the Church, and as a part of our mission we model those teachings for our students, including those on contraception. In this we seek to strike a balance between individual conscience — our students are free to possess and use any form of birth control they choose — and endorsing behaviors that run counter to Church teachings,” Gray said in a statement to The Hoya. “For that reason, Fordham neither distributes nor permits distribution of contraceptives.”
Gray clarified that the only exception to this policy is the prescription of birth control pills for medical reasons unrelated to contraception.
SAGES met with Dean of Students Christopher Rodgers after the release of the petition, but the conversation only clarified the university’s existing policy and did not discuss any steps to change it. Despite this, Field said the meeting was a sign of progress.
“They definitely seem to be taking us very seriously,” she said. “After we turned in the petition, they really wanted to get a meeting together.”
Field said that the student body largely supported the movement.
“There’s very little student opposition,” Field said. “Even groups that you would think would be oppositional, like pro-life groups, have not been. They’ve been supportive of us individually.”
According to the Boston Globe, other Catholic universities that ban the distribution of condoms on campus include Boston College, University of Notre Dame, University of Dayton, Providence College, Catholic University of America, College of the Holy Cross and Stonehill College. Students at these universities that defy this rule are subject to disciplinary action.
Georgetown does not officially distribute contraception through the Student Health Center nor does it officially recognize H*yas for Choice, though it permits the organization to freely distribute condoms on campus.
H*yas for Choice President Abby Grace (SFS ’16) criticized Fordham’s policies as dangerous.
“I feel that these policies might actually constitute a public health risk,” Grace said. “For Fordham to prohibit the distribution of contraception is incredibly irresponsible, especially given the rate at which college students engage in sexual intercourse.”
Although he said he did not believe Fordham was obligated to provide contraception, he supports SAGES’ protest.
“I think SAGES is completely justified in protesting the administrative ban on distributing contraception,” Hoyas United for Free Speech founder and HFC member Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ’17) wrote in an email. “SAGES isn’t hurting anybody and is respectfully expressing its views, Fordham should respond in kind.”
Despite opposition from Fordham, Grace had high hopes for SAGES to follow in the footsteps of H*yas for Choice.
“Ultimately, I think that as long as SAGES continues to engage in targeted and meaningful direct action, they will be successful,” Grace said. “I think that H*yas for Choice’s case should make it very clear to Fordham administrators that it is possible to have an unrecognized, unaffiliated group distributing contraception on a Catholic campus.”