DePaul Feminist Front petitions for contraception on SGA ballot

Condoms are available on some college campuses. (Matt Goins/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
Condoms are available on some college campuses. (Matt Goins/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
Condoms are available on some college campuses. (Matt Goins/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
Condoms are available on some college campuses. (Matt Goins/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

More than 1,500 petitions circulated last week as  part of DePaul Feminist Front’s (DFF) attempt to put the issue of campus contraception distribution at the forefront of this year’s SGA election.

Elections take place from May 18 to 22 and if the student body votes to change the current policy “to allow condoms, along with other sexual health products, to be freely available for distribution among the student body,” it will become the official stance of the SGA at the start of next year’s term.

The by-laws outlined by the Election Operations Board state that a referendum requires 1,500 valid student signatures in favor of an issue worded in accordance with EOB-approved language. DFF potentially fulfilled this requirement last week, but awaits confirmation from the office of DePaul Student Records that all signatories are current DePaul students.

The university policy ban on contraception distribution is something DFF member Laura Springman calls “outdated,” while distribution of contraception is what the administration, in it’s official policy on contraceptives  calls “inappropriate” and contradictory to Vincentian values.

“DePaul University reserves the right to restrict the distribution of medical or health supplies/devices items on university premises that it deems to be inappropriate from the perspective of the institution’s mission and values.”

Backed by at least 1,556 students who  signed the petition, Springman believes that this policy needs to change for the protection of students’ mental and sexual health.

“DePaul has a really low sexual health rating and I think it’s important to be realistic about this,” Springman said. “College students are going to have sex and it’s a health and safety issue to ban contraception on campus. We want students to know what their options are because we think that it empowers students and keeps them safe. If you want to have a safer campus, then that’s one of the ways to do it.”

It’s no secret that DePaul is consistently ranked in the lowest bracket on Trojan’s annual Sexual Health Report Card; this year the university holds a spot at 113 out 140, a step up from previous years where it has appeared last, or close to it, on the list

Commenting on the consistently low rankings, Dean of Students Ashley B. Knight is skeptical of the validity of a report card produced by a contraception manufacturer.

“I do not consider their report to be the definitive opinion on sexual heath,” Knight said. “ . . . How much does policy on contraception contribute, if at all, to (DePaul’s) rankings? You will have to ask (Trojan) what factors contribute to its rankings.”

The independent research firm that investigates schools on behalf of Trojan looks at 11 separate categories when analyzing student health centers to determine rankings, among which are contraceptive and condom availability, hours of operation, and on/off campus availability to HIV/STI testing.

DePaul’s contract with Sage Medical, located near campus, and it’s accordance with Vincentian values regarding contraception, inevitably contribute to its low rankings.

The two main assumptions are that a lack of contraception availability is detrimental to sexual health and that proximity to a clinic contributes to an increase in it.

DePaul women’s health professor and certified nurse practitioner Linda Graf said that contraception availability most certainly plays a part in sexual health, and that college students in particular need the convenience of an on-site clinic. Despite the strides that Graf emphasizes DePaul has made to ensure the health and safety of its students, she said there is much more work to be done.

“DePaul has made great strides in the past five or six years; we’ve established a sexual health violence prevention coordinator and improved online resources,” Graf said. “But in the words of St. Vincent himself, it’s not enough just to do good; it must be well done, and DePaul can do more.”

Doing more takes on different forms in the minds of health and safety advocates on campus.

Springman said contraception availability is the first step to fostering an environment that is comfortable with addressing student sexuality, a main factor, she said, in increasing sexual health. Graf said there’s a much bigger picture to focus on.

“There’s definitely a correlation between condom availability and sexual health because it’s about the environment you’re promoting,” Springman said. “If you’re creating this environment where you actually talk about these things, give students options, and don’t push sex to the side, you’re going have a healthier campus; especially if you start this dialogue with students about it.”

Graf said dialogue is the key factor in student-administration cooperation. She emphasized her support for student groups that look to improve student health on campus, but cautioned against disrespecting long-standing Catholic values.

“I don’t think they’re being respectful of the Catholic stance on contraception by just saying ‘we want contraception distribution and that’s that,’” Graf said. “I could see a more effective conversation happening between the board of trustees and students where student needs can be met, while maintaining Catholic values.”

But students like Catholic Campus Ministry communications coordinator Jordan Jedry don’t believe there needs to be a conflict between contraception and 21st century Catholicism.

“The ban is not okay, especially with how progressive DePaul presents itself,” Judry said. “I get that it’s a Catholic institution, but that’s not the reality we live in anymore; it just seems extremely archaic and I don’t think that you need to refrain from contraceptive aids just because you’re a catholic university.”

Among all proponents of health policy reform at DePaul, though, a recurring theme presents itself: a push for some sort of dialogue between activists like DFF and DePaul administrators who wish to preserve Catholic values.

SGA president Matthew Von Nida said a referendum is a way of ensuring that these conversations take place.

Meanwhile, Springman has kept a realistic mindset when it comes to the impact of the referendum on actual policy change.

“I definitely don’t think this issue is just going to be done and solved by a vote,” she said. “But I would like to think that it would at least start some sort of pressure that could eventually, hopefully, lead to more action.”

Last year, DePaul students cast their vote on an issue that landed on the ballot via the same route DFF is taking now. As SGA announced election results, the Students for Justice in Palestine gathered outside Arts and Letters with tears and shrieks of joy for a successful campaign that they hoped would influence DePaul administrators to divest from Israeli corporations that SJP claimed were benefitting from the harm of Palestinians.

However, one year later, many question whether or not it carried any weight at all in the talks leading up to the decision by the Fair Business Practices Committee to continue preexisting business partnerships.

Knight says that the lack of policy change on this specific case is no indication of a failure to take student-passed referenda seriously.

“The Fair Business Practices Committee of faculty, staff and students met at length to consider the referendum and discovered that the facts on the ground did not support divestment in that specific case,” she said. “But they gave the referendum great attention and respect as they considered the facts. Universities don’t make decisions by politicized votes, but only after thoughtful investigation and consideration by a knowledgeable, representative group.”

Commenting on this year’s referenda, Knight foreshadows a bleak future in regards to policy change for DFF members like Springman who are spearheading the campaign for reform:

“As a Catholic university that follows Catholic teachings, there is little room for change in this particular policy,” she said.

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