By Editorial Staff
Fordham’s sexual health policy has become a notable topic of discussion on campus in light of recent events, especially the distribution of contraceptives by an anonymous group of students during Homecoming weekend. In fact, The Fordham Ram ran a front-page article on the topic in our second issue, highlighting its importance to our organization.
Given these recent events, and the attention sexual health policies have brought to Catholic universities — Fordham among them — in the past, we at The Fordham Ram believe it is important to take a close look at current policy and evaluate if it is a policy worth reconsidering.
The university’s policy on contraceptives is as follows: “As an institution in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, Fordham University follows Church teachings on reproductive issues. Distribution of contraceptives, contraceptive devices and/or birth control, in any form, is prohibited on Fordham University property and at University-sponsored events.”
The policy continues, saying that the University Health Services staff is able to make “limited exceptions in writing appropriate prescriptions for the treatment of an existing medical condition accompanied by supporting documentation.” An often-cited example of this is that a student can provide a doctor’s note signed by her personal physician saying that the student is using birth control pills for uses other than its contraceptive purpose.
There is currently a fallacy floating around that condoms are banned on campus, but this is not true.
Considering the subtle, but essential, distinction between distribution and possession, students are permitted to have condoms. They just cannot distribute them at campus events.
Students are not allowed to distribute contraceptives for a number of reasons, both practical and ethical. Most importantly, however, use of contraceptives is prohibited by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. This is a doctrine which the university is expected to follow without exceptions due to its existence as institution in the Catholic, Jesuit tradition.
It is rather logical why the university does not fund the distribution of contraceptives at the events it makes possible — club meetings, residence hall programs and other miscellaneous events: It is contrary to one of its core beliefs.
Some students also believe that resident assistants are required to confiscate contraceptives from residents. The university has a policy against cohabitation, which states that “A student is not permitted to request or cajole a roommate to leave his or her room, suite or apartment in order to facilitate sexual activities” (also known as sexiling), but there is nothing explicitly stated that prohibits the use of condoms or other forms of birth control within the confines of students’ rooms on campus. After consulting various resident assistants, it is not the case that they are patrolling the hallways looking for condom wrappers or pill boxes.
There is nothing in the Student Handbook or Residence Life Handbook that bans condoms. In fact, there is not one mention of the words “contraceptives,” “condoms” or “birth control.” If there were a rule stating that students could not use or possess condoms, we would oppose it fiercely. However, there is little evidence of such a policy. Claiming that there is such a policy — and that students should take action to change it — is a disservice to free speech, as well as a waste of resources and time.
Another claim brought up in the original article was that the university limits discussion on sexual health due to its extensively restrictive policies on free speech. This is an exaggeration of school policy, and an undermining of past students’ efforts to further free speech on campus.
As Christopher Rodgers, dean of students, pointed out in an interview, there are a number of university-provided and student-run programs regarding sexual health. Such programs include online educational courses for incoming freshmen and orientation sessions on sexual misconduct, health and relationships. There is also Fordham’s Campus Assault and Relationship Education (C.A.R.E.) programming at the beginning of each academic year. Though some have reservations about the program, which was highlighted in an op-ed last week, titled “Why CORE Programming Misses the Point,” it is a resource for students to consider at all points during the year.
Other opportunities for students to participate in the discussion concerning sexual health are found in residence hall programming. Every residence hall is required to host at least one program each academic year concerning sexual health. Additionally, as Dean Rodgers noted, relevant student clubs and organization are encouraged to host programs related to the topic.
There are also numerous student publications including The Fordham Ram, the paper, The Ampersand and The Fordham Political Review that welcome and publish sexual health-related content on a regular basis. While writing an article in the newspaper will not change school policy nor the doctrines upon which the Catholic Church depends, the pages of student publications are a valuable resource for opinionated students to inject their opinions into the ongoing conversation.
Though there is headway to be made in the debate about Catholic teachings and how the Church should enforce its doctrines, the current policy regarding sexual health and contraceptives maintains a reasonable balance between promoting sexual health and maintaining Jesuit Catholic values.