Dignity for all Students and Their Health

By Lindsey Hennawi

THE HEIGHTS  [The Independent Student Newspaper of Boston College]

Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 21:10

Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH) is committed to improving sexual health education and resources for all students at BC. We seek to foster dialogue and provide comprehensive information about sexual health, as well as to campaign for policy reform. We engage with the health of the whole person: emotional, social, environmental, physical, spiritual, and mental, in order to empower students to make informed and healthy decisions.

We do not do these things in spite of our place at a Jesuit institution, but in keeping with it.   [emphasis added]

It is expressly because we have the privilege of attending a University so dedicated to the development of the self – both the body and the soul – that we find it both appropriate and necessary to advocate for these sexual health issues that are an integral aspect of that process. In that regard, we provide condoms and other resources directly to students, we run programming, such as Sex and the Soul, that explores the relationship between human sexuality and personal spirituality, and we work with the administration to understand the University’s positions on these issues and push for policy reform in the best interest of the students. In short, BCSSH respects and works within the framework of BC’s Catholic tradition, but we refuse to accept that it must invariably bar us from pursuing an open dialogue and concrete action around this issue. A University dedicated to fostering men and women for others simply cannot consider itself and the mission of protecting students’ health mutually exclusive.

As an executive board member of BCSSH, these were the points I tried to discuss with a Jesuit and resident minister who we encountered during last Friday’s condom distribution when he told me that my participation in the distribution was degrading to the dignity of both myself and other students, that it – the distribution and the act of protected, consensual sex itself – made any who participate less of a person and less human. He further elaborated that we female volunteers were making it easy for men to use us, as if sex were an inherently misogynistic act which a woman could not be empowered to pursue for herself, and in which there could not possibly exist mutual consent and respect.  [Evidently there is only one orthodox Jesuit at Boston College since he is the only one who has spoken out – the College administration is silent. – Abyssum]

Having never before been accused of degrading students’ dignity, nor told I am less than human, I was taken aback by this attack on my freedom to educate students and my personal freedom in making informed decisions related to sexuality. Yet, what shocked me most was when he began to shout at students with whom we interacted. “You’re better than that!” he would say to students who accepted condoms. And when a student declined our offer, he would laud them: “Good for you! You have dignity!”

As this interaction continued, I watched student after student appear to take interest in receiving sexual health resources, but shy away because of his comments. These students turned down life-saving health materials because they were intimidated by a University figure employed to support and guide them. Whether this was his intent, this Jesuit’s actions directly infringed not just upon students’ personal comfort, but also their very freedom to make decisions for themselves. In so doing, he jeopardized students’ health and safety.

Is this the culture we want for our students – one of intimidation, fear, and judgment? BCSSH has always acted with respect, both in our approach to University administration and with regard to the student body, in whom we recognize a plurality of views and experiences. We acted respectfully toward our protester as well, inviting him to speak with us. The behavior we saw in return, however, was anything but respectful of students, their health needs, or their freedom of choice. BC should foster a community that empowers and supports its students to make healthy decisions for themselves, not one that judges or endangers them.

After last Friday’s encounter, I am more than ever committed to the BCSSH mission. I realize just how great a need there is for open dialogue, a University culture more accepting of students’ personal choices, and our efforts to promote students’ ability to make those choices in a healthy manner. This Jesuit accused us of being “animals” who ignore the consequences of our actions. But BCSSH is here precisely because we know the consequences of a student body that is not provided adequate sexual health information and resources – like how, for example, one in four college students has a sexually transmitted infection. With that in mind, we cannot afford to judge or intimidate students. Our health and safety are too important.

Please consider this letter an open offer to the BC community to engage in conversation and meaningful dialogue. We hope that as a community we can respect students’ rights to pursue choices about their health in a judgment-free environment. Human dignity and respect for the self means nothing without respect for others.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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