Boston College refuses to allow students, administrators, or health providers to distribute condoms, does not mention any other method besides abstinence as an effective means to prevent STI’s and HIV/AIDS on their website, and will only prescribe oral contraceptives to women who claim that they are taking the pill for “other reasons” besides birth control.
Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSSH) is an unofficial student group that formed in 2009 to provide students with information that many feel they would not, or could not, otherwise receive at a Catholic institution. BCSSH hands out condoms on the sidewalk of College Road (or CoRo, as it is more commonly known), which is owned by the city of Newton, and not Boston College. BCSSH has also created “Safe Sites,” a network of dorm rooms and other common spaces on campus where condoms and pamphlets are available for free.
Although many would claim condom distribution is antithetical to Catholic doctrine, student representatives of BCSSH say that the administration had never directly asked them to halt distribution until March 15, when BCSSH received a sort-of “cease and desist” letter that BCSSH chairwoman Lizzie Jekanowski characterized as “bizzarely, vaguely threatening.” The letter, signed by Dean of Students Paul Chebator and Director of Residence Life George Arey, reads: “While we understand that you may not be intentionally violating university policy, we do need to advise you 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 school’s policies are in line with what Jack Dunn, a spokesman for the college, calls “our Catholic commitments.” However, Dunn says that BC does not prevent students from purchasing condoms off campus, or take disciplinary action against students who use condoms. Is BC’s policy of allowing students to use condoms in private, but not encouraging that decision in public, enough to ensure that students make healthy, affirming sexual choices?
The answer is no. First, consider the context. Over 70 percent of BC students identify as Catholic, a statistic that is important for two reasons: 1) it is rational to assume that many BC students went to Catholic primary and secondary schools, where they did not receive comprehensive sexual education that included lessons on contraception; 2) that 30 percent of students are not Catholic, and therefore might feel alienated, confused, or frustrated by the school’s attitudes toward contraception.
Second, consider the message. BC is basically telling students, “Hey, we know that research says that 99 percent of practicing Catholics use some form of birth control, but we are choosing to ignore reality in order to perpetuate an antiquated ideology.” The administration is also rejecting the fact that we know more about effective contraception methods and STI prevention than ever before, and that students have a right to access that information, even if they choose not to have sex. Since BC chose to ignore, and therefore passively accept, BCSSH’s activities since 2009, the fact that they are reversing their position makes them appear aggressive and hypocritical.
Third, consider the greater Catholic mission. Jekanowski said it best: “We see it as very intrinsic of being a Jesuit that we provide these resources and we affirm the whole person,” she said. “Students shouldn’t have to choose between holistic health care and a world class institution.”
Why should Duke students, or more generally, students who do not attend Catholic institutions, care about the BC condom controversy?
One on hand, it’s easy to dismiss this incident as just another one of the Catholic Church’s antiquated political schemes. It’s tempting to say, “Well, BC students know that they are attending a Catholic institution, and agreed to adhere to the school’s rules and doctrines when they signed their acceptance offers.” However, both of these perspectives delegitimize Catholic students’ demands for comprehensive sex education.
College students everywhere undergo a number of paradigm shifts and transformative experiences, and students at BC or other Catholic colleges are no different. Just because the students signed an agreement to uphold the tenets of the Catholic faith does not mean that BC’s students cannot, or should not, challenge those tenets while they are in school. We should applaud BCSSH for standing up for what they believe in, even though it might be unpopular with the administration or the campus as a whole.
In fourth grade, I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. I wore pants to school that were fully ripped up the butt, and not just one time. I let my mom give me a bowl cut – again. I allowed my classmates to nickname me “Beaner”, which neither they nor I realized was a racial slur (made especially inappropriate by its application to the only mildly Hispanic person in the class). Exercising a complete lack of oversight, my mom then let me sew this name on a backpack. This is, perhaps, the most embarrassing thing I have ever worn on my body for two straight years.
Yet what I am least proud of is that for about a month at age 9, I was a bully. I was always the smart kid in a very small class, but in 4th grade, Jane showed up on the scene – and she was smart, too. AND, on top of THAT, she also liked the same boy as I did. So my friends and I decided that we would dislike her. We would make mean jokes about her, behind her back and to her face. Personally, my job was to walk on the back of her ankles in line. I finally got reprimanded when I made a photo scrapbook for a project and put stickers on top of her face whenever she was in a picture. Although I wasn’t the sole perpetrator, I was the only one reprimanded – which was probably just, because I certainly incited the bullying. When I think about 4th grade with Jane, I can still feel a twinge of regret in my stomach - and I deserve to.
This was my first experience with woman-on-woman combat. I would like to say that this sort of self-centered disregard for the feelings and thoughts of others ends when we’re all juniors in high school, as was the expectation created by the movie Mean Girls. Yet there are certainly fully-grown adults (or college student equivalents) that practice their own form of bullying – exclusion, silent treatments, baseless shit-talking, or purposeless spite.
Although it is frequently referred to as such, I think that it is overly simplistic to call this a problem of “women holding other women back.” Something that is often forgotten (by feminists and non-feminists alike) is that women are people, and might not identify first and foremost with their gender above all else. Women are not “holding other women back” in the sense that the terminology implies when female Republicans and Democrats compete, or when two women with different ideas on gay marriage advocate for different sides of the issue, or in most circumstances where women disagree with and critique one another. Women debating is necessarily defined by their womanhood, and no one is holding anyone anywhere simply because women disagree or compete. What I think is more constructive phrasing is to talk about is feminists holding other feminists back through unwarranted or unnecessary criticism.
Now, I’m not saying that feminists should not be constantly critiquing one another. As a group that is, itself, critiqued constantly, advocates for equality should constantly seek to perfect their message. This requires the ability to take criticism, especially from people who are striving for your same goals. It is almost never helpful to silence yourself or others for the sake of sparing someone’s feelings. However, there is a huge difference between critiquing someone’s ideas or actions for a greater good and criticizing for personal gain.
An example of this recently brought to my attention was the story of Sheryl Sandberg – the COO of Facebook – who published a book, Lean In, made up of stories and advice for ambitious women. Yet before the book was even published, feminist authors who had not read it began tearing it to shreds, calling Sandberg’s book “pontification” to women too poor to follow her advice. They called her a pseudo-feminist who was exploiting women’s rights to make money and foster power. Now, I have read this book, and although there are some marks of a very rich woman, Sandberg actually presents a rather clear and inspiring message to ambitious women, in all types of work (not excluding housework). Stories of Sandberg’s life and her own depiction of it in her book do not reek of fake feminism, but reflect a successful, intelligent, feminist woman who I am more than happy to take advice from. Yet women’s rights advocates jumped at the chance to denigrate Sandberg as a fraud of a feminist and her book as a detriment to the feminist cause – although they had little to no knowledge of what the book was actually about. As they themselves were feminists, their opinions were widely accepted and they were literally paid to lay them out in essay format for highly-esteemed newspapers and magazines. When the book came out, there was a backlash to the backlash (albeit smaller in its second wave). This kind of behavior is not only unhelpful to pretty much anyone, but also this type of publicly displayed closed-mindedness and thoughtless, self-indulgent criticism exhibited by some well-known feminist authors could dissuade young women and men from wanting to ally themselves with what, from the outside, looks to be incredibly hypocritical group of people.
This kind of behavior is not unique to the world of literature or the public sphere. It also occurs right here at Duke. DSG elections, Chronicle articles and comment boards, discussion panels on equality issues, and even just everyday conversations can become competitions of who is the better advocate for equal rights. These arguments can range from helpful to downright dirty, with everything from constructive criticism to snide disapproval to outright personal attack. Often, these debates come not from an intellectual level and are not meant to help discussion or others, but are meant to uplift one person by denigrating another. They most often come out of competing personal interests to be right – to be the better egalitarian. Whether it be social approval, respect for oneself or one’s activities, or simply superiority that is desired out of this criticism, it is not necessarily a productive critique that adds to Duke’s culture and conversation. Although focusing on how a message is delivered is important and necessary, it seems that at Duke, we are stuck in our typical competitive nature and are overly concerned with being the best. However, we must be aware that this comes with a price. More often than not, a message’s worth and many of its non-feminist listeners are lost in overly meticulous discussion.
You cannot censor criticism. It is crucial and necessary for critique to be given and taken. However, equal rights advocates need to be especially careful when critiquing others, because their position gives them power. Bigoted and baseless critique can be accepted blindly as correct if it comes from someone who claims themselves an egalitarian. When criticizing others who share your pro-equality views, therefore, it is absolutely imperative to keep in mind whether your critique will further the debate or quash it. We must be mindful to not count our own individual feminism as the only good way to do it. And, perhaps most importantly, we must keep in mind our own personal investments, and be sure that we are critiquing out of intellectuality and not self-interest. Because if there is something the feminist movement cannot become, if for no other reason than to avoid confirming untrue stereotypes, it is a group of self-promoting, pseudo-benevolent bullies.
For more info on the Sheryl Sandberg story, check out these stories:
As I celebrate my youngest child’s 18th birthday, I find myself thinking about all those mothers who will be sending their children to our campus in a matter of 4 months. I offer thoughts that I shared with my daughter on April 5.
Well, Flannery….rumor has it that you, my baby, are 18 years old. Like a branding, the memory of the first time I saw you is burned in my brain. I laid down for a nap and poof, you are 18.
And I simply could not be more proud.
This year, I have struggled and struggled to figure out what to give to you. And finally I decided the only thing or worth I can give you is this mirror of sorts. I am going to share my experience of you.
Sharing this life with you is more beautiful than I have words to express. Let’s be realsies, partners have come and gone, love has been lost, hearts have been broken, bank accounts laid bare. We’ve buried a lot of bodies, right? But, you and my total commitment and attachment to you, like modge podge to magazine pictures, have been unyielding, unwavering and decidedly uncrappy.
And for that and to you, my dear, I am so grateful.
Of all the mothers you could have chosen to share this, part 1 of your journey with, I am eternally grateful you chose me.
And I am really really excited about this next phase of your journey. I suppose it is our journey. To this point as we have traveled down this road together, we have walked pretty much side by side. Perhaps I carried you at first then I put you down and you ran ahead of me, always beckoning me “catch up, mom,” “looks what’s around this corner!” And there have been times, we know what they are, when you have carried me. Remember this? “Mom, he can’t love you if he doesn’t love himself. AND HE DOESN’T LOVE HIMSELF!”
I know it’s your 18th birthday, but honestly, I feel like I am the one receiving the gift. And it’s all elegantly wrapped with a beautiful ribbon and I sit with it and wonder “what’s inside?” And I shake it and try to guess and the anticipation …. You can feel it in the air. The next phase of your journey….what’s in store? What’s around the corner? What surprises lie in wait?
I don’t know and I don’t want to know and I don’t want you to know. Let’s be surprised. Delightfully, giggly, obnoxiously surprised. Goodbye to the little girl Flannery and hello to the woman Flannery. At this part of your journey, it’s time for you to kick me off the train and go alone. Not completely alone. As e.e. cummings writes, you will always be in my heart, but you will take this next leg of the journey without my daily physical presence. But always always with my love, my support and my last dying breath. All of them are yours. Kidneys, spleens, laundry done, soup made….whatever you need that I have is yours. You got that beautiful mop of hair of yours from dad, but let’s be honest, you got those gorgeous legs from your mom. And they are sturdy and strong and about 8 miles long. They will carry you wherever you need to go. And you got that heart of yours, that courageous don’tfuckwithmeorthoseiloveheart from you. Not me, not dad, you made that yourself.
No one, no ONE, no one is more prepared, more deserving, more ready than Flannery Jones of Durham, NC. I stand at the train station and I wave goodbye to you, to my heart and I stand with a fully charged cell phone waiting for your stories of all your adventures, your triumphs and your failures. I am so excited to hear about the failures! The total screw ups!! The heartbreaks. The times you kick ass! I am ready for them all, but more importantly, so are you.
Bon Voyage! Have a safe trip, but not too safe! Saol fada chgat, a ghra mo chroi. (long life to you, love of my heart)
Every time I go home for any break, I’m subjected to two pretty awful things: first, these nauseating oriental herbal drinks that apparently reignite a long-gone growth spurt, and second, my mother’s outdated marriage advice about finding someone superior to me.
I can handle the former because I know it will my mother happy that I still “try” at growing (though how one “tries” to grow is and forever will remain a mystery to me). But I choke a little with the latter. It’s a bit more problematic to digest, and I felt the same way when I read Patton’s viral letter.
The basic premise of Patton’s letter—that Princeton females should find a husband before they graduate—can be summarized in this quote:
“Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are.”
Her words have predictably outraged many in our friendly online community, feminists and non-feminists alike. But before I go on to make somewhat similar criticisms, I will admit that there’s some truth in what she (and my mother) says about marriage.
Yes, if your future husband/partner attends a university supposedly ranked lower than Duke, he might be intimidated by your success. There’s a reason why videos like "I went to Princeton, bitch" exist.
Yes, if he makes less money than you, it might threaten his “leading” or “provider” role in the relationship. You yourself can take on that role but no lie, it feels nice to sometimes be taken care of.
Yes, I do believe that family is a significant influence on one’s future happiness. So I do believe that whom you choose to marry may be “inextricably linked to that.”
All in all, I know that my mother wants the best for me. She wants me to be happy, if not comfortable in my relationship with my husband. So she prepares me for what she regards as “inevitable reality.”
Simply because these are potential realities, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should or have to play by Patton’s rules. What is fundamentally wrong with my mother’s views and Patton’s letter is their troubling elitist perception of marriage.
Patton’s argument as to why her “daughters” at Princeton should scout out a husband during undergrad isn’t even all that multidimensional. She assumes that intellectual compatibility will prevent a relationship from being “frustrating” for a woman.
As someone who’s attended a supposedly prestigious institution with highly ambitious and intellectual gentlemen, I promise you Ms. Patton, that a man’s intelligence does not guarantee maturity, responsibility, warm-heartedness, or generosity. This isn’t to say that there are men here at Duke who can be all these things, but to assume that intellect and success will ultimately make me happy is an offensive presupposition of my values.
Men, you should feel pretty offended too. She just cut you off from ever having a chance with any girl at Princeton. Good luck with that. And you poor men from any other school that doesn’t cut it to the top ten of U.S. News and Weekly, you’ll really have it tough if you decide that a woman’s “lack of erudition” actually does matter in addition to her beauty.
Also, I understand that she is not necessarily telling girls to stop striving towards their professional goals and leadership positions. But what is pretty explicit in her letter, especially when she implies that we can’t date younger men, is that we should still look for someone who can lead and take care of us.
I understand that many ambitious, type-A girls (I can relate) often look for a man who can challenge but respect their authority and offer to “wear the pants” in the relationship. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this desire, but it perpetuates the age-old damsel in distress, princess-saving love/relationship theories that unfairly burdens men with standards of perfection and stability, which they obviously do not have. Whatever age, however smart, both men and women are still learning and growing in a relationship.
Lastly, Patton tells me that the “cornerstone” of my “future and happiness” will be defined by the man I marry. I wonder how many men would say the same about their future wives, over any dreams and passions they’ve built about their careers and success. Patton overlooks the massively changing dynamic in the field of working women (she must have missed the Lean In frenzy), and assumes that women can’t be marked by her own professional accomplishments as well.
So perhaps my mother knows things that I don’t, given her twenty years of marriage as opposed to my zero. Perhaps we should just treat Patton’s letter as “honest advice from a Jewish mother,” as she remarked on Huffington Post. But the reality is that Patton neglected the power of the media and openly dampened the growing efforts among young women to be independent, successful, and respected in a still heavily patriarchal society.
Succumbing to reality just because of its long establishments is not only disheartening and sad, but it’s just wrong. Hopefully, that doesn’t come as a surprise. Call me naive for believing in the power of change, but I believe that marriage dynamic has and will continue to evolve. I believe that an elitist standard like one’s educational background will not mark the hierarchy in a relationship. I hope that hierarchy will fail to exist at all.
While you've probably heard a lot about Duke, this is the time when you come see for yourselves. We believe you will come away informed, inspired and impressed and in fact have been working hard to make sure of it. We know you all have a choice - and so we are grateful that you have chosen to give us the chance to show you the Duke that is so special to us.
Below (and attached) is the schedule that gives you a sense of what will be going on. Should you have questions about this weekend’s events, please do not hesitate to contact us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone 919.684.3814.
Duke University’s Black Student Alliance Invitational 2013 Thursday, March 28 – Sunday, March 31 At-A-Glance Schedule Events are open to the Duke community unless otherwise noted.
ITEMS IN BOLD ARE MANDATORY FOR PROSPECTIVE FIRST YEAR [P-Frosh] STUDENTS
Thursday, March 28 8:00 am – 4:00 pm Students Arrive & Registration [WEST UNION, OLD TRINITY ROOM/ROOM107]
8:00 am – 4:00 pm Classes
9:00 am – 4:00 pm Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture Open House
10:00 am & 12:00 pm Tours of West Campus 11:00 am & 1:00 pm Tours of West Campus
2:00 pm – 4:00 pm Chapel Climb sponsored by Black Campus Ministries
By Write(H)ers participant Adrienne Harreveld, T'15
With the Supreme Court hearings on issues of marriage equality, my entire Facebook newsfeed has become a sea of red equal signs, a notorious symbol of the Human Rights Campaign. One friend jokingly made the comment the influx of HRC red equal signs is like the Facebook version of passover. While it’s great to see so many of my Facebook friends are on the side of marriage equality, there are two things I find slightly troubling: 1) how quickly my friends seem to buy into facebook or social media activism trends, otherwise known as “slacktivism” (think KONY 2012) and 2) The Human Rights Campaign itself.
My guess is if my friends knew more about some of the executive decisions made by the HRC, they would be less likely to promote its social media kitsch.
I recognize that the Human Rights Campaign is an incredible force in achieving gay rights victories throughout the United States, but oftentimes these victories come at the expense of supporting groups and individuals that do little in the fight for equality.
My main problem with the HRC arose when Goldman Sachs was given the HRC’s 2012 Corporate Equality award. Although Goldman Sachs has a great LGBT diversity recruitment policy, there is more to a corporation than its hiring practices. Goldman Sachs, while a financial supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, was also one of Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s largest donors and donated to anti-LGBT candidates throughout the United States. Goldman Sachs’ financial practices also notoriously sustain inequality at many levels. They are responsible for innumerable wrongful home foreclosures which are three times more likely to affect black and latinofamilies than white families.Not to mention the 2010 class action lawsuit after a woman was groped by a colleague after attending a Goldman Sachs sponsored Strip Club outing. Really, HRC? Of all of the corporations in the United States, Goldman Sachs was the most shining example of Corporate Equality?
Another common critique of the HRC is that they are cisgenderist or transphobic. The Transgender HIV/AIDS Info database defines cisgenderism as “a prejudice similar to racism and sexism. It denies, ignores, denigrates, or stigmatizes any stereotypically non-cisgender forms of expression, sexual activity, behavior, relationship, or community.” In 2007, the HRC supported a version of ENDA (the Executive Nondiscrimination Act) that prohibited the discrimination of hiring employees based on sexual orientation. The version the HRC supported did not include protection of those who were discriminated against in hiring practices because of gender identity. The HRC’s mission is to fight for the equality of all LGBTQ identifying people, not to prioritize the interests of some over others. Many gay rights activism groups seem to be primarily fighting for the rights of gay, white men. Could the HRC be included? Judging by their 2007 endorsement- definitely.
The two above are only choice examples in a slew of questionable decisions made by the HRC. In 2004, an HRC official reported saying “the group would consider supporting President Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program” and in 1998 they endorsed US Senate candidate D’Amato who openly opposed affirmative action and abortion rights.
By changing your profile picture to the HRC’s image of a red equal sign you are not just supporting marriage equality, but rather you are supporting the HRC’s version of marriage equality which prioritizes the interests of wealthy, white, gay, males. While I realize this is still a battle that needs to be fought, we need to continue to ensure we promote the agendas of all members of the LGBT community.