When Boston College leaders sent a letter to a student group in March saying its members could expect disciplinary sanctions if they distributed condoms from dorm rooms on campus, a game of sides followed. Some students, members of the media, and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union stood by the unofficial student group, Boston College Students for Sexual Health. Officials at Catholic colleges and universities—including the University of Notre Dame (Ind.), Georgetown University (D.C.), the University of Dayton (Ohio), Providence College (R.I.), and The Catholic University of America (D.C.)—showed support for BC’s policies, which are similar to their own.
“Boston College students are free to make personal choices regarding their lives,” notes a BC statement explaining the action. “Administrators from Student Affairs are not prying into students’ private affairs; nor are they opposed to them choosing to possess condoms. Rather, they are reminding students that in choosing to live in our residence halls, they must abide by the code of conduct that governs all BC students. Publicly distributing condoms from dorm rooms in our residence halls is in violation of that code.”
Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, says the issue isn’t about sides, but about Catholic institutions practicing what they preach. “Catholic colleges are open places for people of the Catholic faith, or of another faith, or of no faith, both in our hiring practices and in our acceptance of students. And we ask all those people who come to be respectful of who we are, which is a place where open dialogue is acceptable. We want to talk about the issues of the day, but in terms of practice, that is, what is going on on campus, we ask that people respect the belief systems of what it means to be Catholic.”
The student group had moved from distributing condoms on public streets near campus, to openly distributing condoms from their dorm rooms, according to BC’s statement. Administrators met with the students several times, informing them their actions were a violation of university policies. The group is also involved in sexual education, which the administrators said they would like to partner on, but wouldn’t be able to do so if the group continued to distribute condoms from their rooms. When the students continued, that’s when Dean Paul Chebator and Director of Residential Life George Arey sent the letter that has since brought BC’s policies into the limelight.
Galligan-Stierle says what’s expected of students at Catholic institutions should be no surprise to them. The church sees its colleges as the “heart of the church, ... where the church sort of does its thinking and its breathing.” Almost all have student orientations and first-year programs that stress the schools’ missions.
“On issues of sexual behavior, alcohol or drug use, treatment of others, or health-related issues, the teachings of the Catholic church need to be lived in a vibrant way on a campus,” he adds. “There are implications if you’re part of a group that is actually putting strategies and programs in place that go against what the school stands for.”