Students Take Equal Rights Campaign to Streets

Vying for policy change, students gathered on Manhattan sidewalks in protest. Laura Sanicola/The Ram

Vying for policy change, students gathered on Manhattan sidewalks in protest. Laura Sanicola/The Ram

By Laura Sanicola

Incensed by Fordham University’s policy that denies students access to and prescriptions for contraceptives on campus, dozens of student and community activists took to the streets of Manhattan on Thursday, Nov. 20 in a rally organized by Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD.)

The rally was co-hosted by the Coalition of Students for Sex and Gender Equity and Safety (SAGES), a new student organization that claims to have distributed thousands of condoms in dormitories and at university events in direct violation of university policy.

Originally an anonymous coalition, SAGES became public earlier this month after the group’s founders gathered outside the Cuniffe House to deliver official grievances in the form of a petition to Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university. As of Nov. 20, McShane has yet to address the SAGES petition, which prompted SAGES to hold the rally.

“We are here to send a message to the Fordham administration that we are united…that we have the power to make change within our institution,” said Wilmarie Cintron-Muniz, FCRH ’15, a SAGES representative.

As the temperatures dropped into the 30s, demonstrators arrived on the sidewalks of 60th Street and Columbus Avenue at 4 p.m. wielding signs and chanting for the university to address issues such as safe housing options for transgendered and gender non-conforming students, non-gendered guest policies and the right to obtain contraceptives, birth control and sexual health advice on campus. It went uninterrupted by Fordham administration or the police presence that accompanied it.

“Human rights are universal, this is nothing controversial,” protestors shouted in unison.

At 5:30 p.m., students marched in front of the Time Warner Building on 58th Street between 8th and 9th avenues. Among the supporters were representatives from New York Civil Liberties Union, NARAL ProChoice New York, Planned Parenthood and students attending City College of New York.

A representative from WORD, identified to the crowd as Ellie, was among the first to address the crowd of students, reaffirming their mission to incite change.

“Fordham students are doing the right thing in demanding that the university take action to change its policies and put the students’ wellbeing in front of its own conviction,” Ellie said. The university’s policy stems from Catholic doctrine, which dictates that all life is sacred from the moment of conception to death. The use of birth control or condoms is not condoned, nor is partaking in pre-marital sex. This is not the first time that the University’s policy on contraceptives has gained public attention. A 2012 Los Angeles Times article entitled “Birth control hard to come by at Fordham University” followed the struggles of a female student at Fordham University School of Law who was trying to obtain contraceptives for medical purposes.

Impassioned activists and the founder of SAGES, Rachel Field, FCRH ’15, cited her own health difficulties as what caused her to join the fight against Fordham’s policy

“I had ovarian cysts and Fordham’s policies sent me to the hospital, and that’s the truth,” Field said. “I am here in front of the Time Warner building because we don’t have free speech on campus. And, there is a reason why we don’t have free speech: so that we don’t make change.”

Brittany Pinson, OSSS ’16, finds the lack of access to female health care inconvenient as well. “Not being from here, it took me forever to get health care since I can’t even get my birth control from Fordham, I have to go to Inwood to see an OB/GYN,” Pinson said.

Pinson is hopeful that rallies like this will catch the attention of administrators. “Hopefully the administration does hear this message, but these students are going to have to keep having [rallies]” said Pinson. “There’s power in numbers, that’s how you get your message heard.”

Maria DeCasper, FCLC ’17, has a more ambivalent stance toward the SAGES message.

“I don’t really care if Fordham allows distribution of condoms on campus,” said DeCasper. “I think its students’ individual responsibilities. Walgreens is right across the street, and students can get contraceptives and condoms there.”

Activists at the rally cited statistics, such as the results of an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute finding that 99 percent of all women of reproductive age who have ever had sex — including 98 percent of Catholic women — have used contraception other than natural family planning.

DeCasper sees no issue with Fordham upholding its condom stance as a Catholic university. “It’s not like condoms are not allowed on campus,” she said.

Nor does she find Residential Life at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus to be unaccommodating to transgendered students. “I had transgendered friends who were able to switch rooms if they felt uncomfortable,” said DeCasper. “We have a good relationship with our administration here at Lincoln Center and I think that Residential Life is as accommodating as they can be.”

Despite hecklers passing by the Time Warner Building, the rally continued until 6:30 p.m.

Katharine Bodde, a member of the New York Civil Liberties Union policy council, summed up SAGES’ message as she addressed the crowd.

“Fordham University opens its doors to students of all backgrounds and faiths and it should allow those students to make personal healthcare decisions that are best for them and their futures,” said Bodde.

“The ability to decide when and whether to have a child is critical to a women’s ability to participate equally in our economic social and political institutions. We have to trust women to be able to make that decision.”

There is one comment

  1. Jacques DeMolay

    [“We are here to send a message to the Fordham administration that we are united…that we have the power to make change within our institution,” said Wilmarie Cintron-Muniz, FCRH ’15, a SAGES representative.]

    Welcome to to the “JESUIT UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK!” You all APPLIED to attend this prestigious Catholic university as opposed to NYU or Columbia. The student body, and alumni, don’t expect ANY student organization to change ANY university policy of this nature. Your time on campus is limited, and a privilege. You signed-up for a Catholic University, knowing full well, in advance of its policies, and health care offerings.

    I understand that birth control pills are used for other medical conditions. Need medical attention? Use your parents’ insurance. Find a doctor in NYC to prescribe birth control and get the Rx filled across Fordham Road! Pay the co-pay. Ob/GYN services are NOT available on campus! Want to buy condoms? Walk across Fordham Road and spend your OWN money.

    Get over it kids. The university is there to educate you, not coddle you. Be satisfied that you are permitted to have an organization the likes of SAGES on campus! Nice photo of the backs of the “incensed” protestors heads by the way. how about uploading some of their faces? After all, they were in PUBLIC. C’mon RAM staff!

    Note: The Author is an Alumni whose father is an Alumni and whose daughter is a student.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s