Never before in history has there been a piece of rubber precisely as polarizing as the modern condom. Condoms have shown up with inexplicable frequency in political (and moral) commentary, sparking debates on institutional regulation, “forced” distribution of condoms, and potential clashes with religious freedom.
This past month, a certain university took the idea of “forced distribution” even further. At the beginning of March, Boston College, which identifies itself as a Catholic university, targeted the independent student organization Boston College Students for Sexual Health with a warning letter for privately distributing condoms and promoting safe sex.
BCSSH is formally not affiliated with the university; in fact, it is not even recognized by the university as an organization. BCSSH also gets its funding from sources outside of Boston College.
According to Lizzie Jekanowski, chair of BCSSH, BCSSH offers a program called “Safe Site.” The program’s participating students hang the Safe Site logo on their dorm room doors, signifying that the room’s occupants offer free male and female condoms, as well as brochures on how to have safe sex.
Jekanowski stated, “We’ve had a positive and open relationship with the administration up to this point.”
But earlier in March, the same administrators sent emails out to students who displayed the Safe Site logo on their doors.
Boston College stated in the email that distributing condoms “is not in concert with the mission of Boston College as a Catholic and Jesuit university.”
The email threatened punitive actions, proclaiming that “should we receive any reports that you are, in fact, distributing condoms on campus, the matter would be referred to the student conduct office for disciplinary action by the University.”
The university attempted to justify its heavy-handedness in the same email, stating that “private universities have the right to set their own policies and to discipline students who violate their policies. The distribution of condoms is incongruent with the university’s values and traditions.”
This decision should be considered a violation of personal rights and privacy. No college should be allowed to dictate its students’ personal lifestyles, including their use of condoms.
Specifically, Boston College should not be allowed to suspend students for distributing condoms and promoting safe sex. The program that organizes student participation is entirely unaffiliated with the university, and therefore does not fall under the university’s jurisdiction.
The university has no right to tell BCSSH to stop its activity — BCSSH’s actions in no way disrupt the university and cannot be legally halted on the basis of Boston College’s religious affiliation.
In addition, though Boston College is a private university and does have the right to set its independent policies as it maintains in its email, it is still obligated under U.S. law to respect equality and fair treatment of students regardless of religion. In this respect, too, their regulations regarding condoms are wrong;
Boston College is restricting students who are not necessarily Catholic, and who are not compelled to obey Catholic avoidance of condoms. As Sarah Wunsch, an attorney for ACLU of Massachusetts, reasoned, “While Boston College is religiously affiliated, it is not a church.”
Jekanowski summarized the situation well: “The religious freedom is that [the university] can speak out; they can express their values and views and can try to persuade people of them, but not to the extent of punishing those who have a different view of contraception.”
Moral and religious arguments aside, Boston College’s unfounded and unconstitutional intervention in contraception clearly violates its students’ rights. Boston College should retract its overextended control and let its students choose for themselves their personal lifestyles.
Kevin Hwang is a senior at Athens High School who is taking classes at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. Should Boston College have told students to stop distributing condoms? Email Kevin at email@example.com.