H*yas for Choice and United Feminists have partnered up in a new campaign that’s demanding substantial change in Georgetown’s reproductive rights policies. The latter being a University-recognized group, the new movement has the potential to endanger UF’s funding and legitimacy.
Through the campaign, called “Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice,” the coalition is making demands for access to material benefits, like contraceptives on campus and rape kits at the Georgetown University Hospital, greater free speech allowances for groups like H*yas for Choice, and “comprehensive health education.”
“These are really rational demands broadly supported by the Georgetown community,” Marion Cory (COL ’10), a board member of United Feminists, told Vox. “It boils down to basic rights, student safety, and student needs.”
Acknowledging that their campaign must adapt to the fact that its advocacy will take place on a Catholic campus, Cory explained that she felt confident their efforts could be successful because their demands were in fact in keeping with Jesuit ideals.
“We don’t see [this campaign] as overcoming Jesuit values, we see it more as asking for Georgetown to consider these issues in their true form, not just the narrows lens it uses now.” she said. “There are a lot of pieces to this issue, like social justice and providing for the health and safety of all people equally.”
She pointed to an open letter the two groups have already written to President John DeGioia on their coalitions’ blog, which she said used a lot of the University’s own language to speak to their demands:
“Issues related to reproductive justice disproportionately affect the lives of people in historically marginalized communities, such as women, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged– the very communities for which Georgetown professes to advocate.
“In addition, the approach Georgetown has taken with regard to discourse around these same issues has been anything but dialogue-promoting. Rather than allow students to openly engage with and discuss issues of choice, sexual health, and contraception, which undeniably shape the society we inhabit, university policies stifle and even prohibit this important exchange of ideas.”
After the jump, the full letter and what this may mean for UF’s Access to University Benefits.
Heather Brock (COL ’10), the president of H*yas for Choice, agreed, and said that in a city with astronomical HIV/AIDS rates, for example, it is irresponsible for the University not to provide for its students’ health by providing condoms and better sexual education.
“When we think about cura personalis and men and women for others, we think about caring for the whole person, and for me that definitely includes sexual health,” Brock said. “And access to informational health.”
As a University-funded student club, United Feminists may be in danger of losing its Access to Benefits in the course of this campaign because it is advocating from a pro-choice position. Brock and Cory recalled that at UF’s founding, members were explicitly warned not to take a pro-choice stance on any issues. But Cory said that warning in and of itself was demonstrative of the censorship problems plaguing H*yas for Choice.
“Potentially, we may lose our Access to Benefits, but that’s what we find as sort of the irony of this—there’s one group that’s been allowed into accepted campus discourse but also this other group that’s been condemned … But whether this imperils our Access to Benefits, we find this campaign imperative. For us to do otherwise is a failure to meet our responsibilities as students to keep Georgetown being what it claims to be—concerned for equality.”
The full open letter to DeGioia:
An Open Letter to President John J. DeGioia February 5, 2010
Dear President DeGioia,
As a Catholic, Jesuit institution Georgetown University is committed to the principles of social justice and open dialogue. While Georgetown offers a myriad of ways to engage with and promote these ideals, its interpretations of both have been selective rather than comprehensive. Adhering to these principles in an honest and non-discriminatory way requires Georgetown to re-evaluate its consideration of and practice regarding reproductive justice.
First, Georgetown must acknowledge reproductive justice as a social justice issue. Georgetown’s current attitude and policies misunderstand reproductive justice as a limited set of concerns and practices removed from a socio-economic context. This narrow scope dangerously compromises Georgetown’s commitment to social justice. Issues related to reproductive justice disproportionately affect the lives of people in historically marginalized communities, such as women, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged– the very communities for which Georgetown professes to advocate.
In addition, the approach Georgetown has taken with regard to discourse around these same issues has been anything but dialogue-promoting. Rather than allow students to openly engage with and discuss issues of choice, sexual health, and contraception, which undeniably shape the society we inhabit, university policies stifle and even prohibit this important exchange of ideas. These issues are forcibly removed from student dialogue, making it almost impossible for them to be approached with anything other than closed-mindedness and ignorance.
In order to be in accordance with its own policies and stated principles, Georgetown University must change the way that it approaches issues related to dialogue and practice around reproductive justice and sex education. As a coalition of students, we have outlined specific steps Georgetown must take in order to fully respect the rights and needs of all of its students.
I. Access to Material Resources
1. Condoms should be available on campus. Stores on Georgetown University property, along with the Georgetown Hospital pharmacy, should be able to sell condoms. This access is crucial to the health and safety of Georgetown students.
2. Birth control pills for contraceptive purposes, other contraceptive methods, and emergency contraception must be prescribed in the Student Health Center, distributed by Georgetown Hospital pharmacy, and covered by Georgetown’s insurance policy.
3. Rape kits must be provided at Georgetown University Hospital. On a college campus with alarmingly high rates of sexual assault and rape, it is crucial that Georgetown actively advocate on behalf of its female students. In the case that rape kits cannot be made available due to the hospital’s inability to treat such cases, free transportation to and from the alternate location must be provided to Georgetown students by Georgetown University.
4. The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, must be stocked and available in the Student Health Center at all times.
II. Access to Informational Resources: Full Disclosure
1. Comprehensive sex education § Sex education at Georgetown should be available and facilitated through the office of Health Education Services. As part of their responsibilities as the providers of health education, this department should host semesterly sex-education programs. These programs should explicitly cover contraceptive options, safe-sex measures specific to LGBTQ communities, and the full range of options available to pregnant students. The staff of Health Education Services should be equipped with the necessary resources in order to offer explicit, comprehensive and non-heteronormative information.§ Although Health Education Services is the institutional resource for sex education, student groups and other departments should be uninhibited and encouraged in promoting the dissemination of information related to sexual health.§ Georgetown must cease its censorship of programming that includes information about non-reproductive sexual practices.
2. Health Education Services must be able, at all times, to fully disclose all legal options for students with regard to contraceptives and abortion services. § Staff should be able to offer information about these services without the students’ explicit request; it should not be assumed that students have prior knowledge of the full range of contraceptive options or abortion services, nor should they be discouraged by Georgetown University staff from pursuing any of their legal options.§ The concern of the university should always be the health and safety of its students. Staff must, then, be willing and able to inform students on every available option and help them make the decision that is best for their particular situation.
III. Free Speech and Open Dialogue: Adherence to a Consistent Moral Ethic
“Discourse is central to the life of the university. To forbid or limit discourse contradicts everything the university stands for.”
–Center for Student Programs Speech and Expression Policy
The Center for Student Programs Speech and Expression policy explicitly states that all students “enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression. This freedom includes the right to express points of view on the widest range of public and private concerns and to engage in the robust expression of ideas” subject only to restrictions of “time, place, and manner.” All student groups, therefore, have the right to engage in open, uncensored dialogue and discussion around all issues, including reproductive justice and abortion.
According to this policy, the ideology behind H*yas for Choice or any other pro-choice student group cannot in itself be sufficient grounds to bar it from full recognition as a student group or the benefits that accompany that status. As stated in the Center for Student Programs’ Speech and Expression Policy, “Violation of these principles, by whatever parties, must have consequences…Making it impossible for others to speak or be heard or seen, or in any way obstructing the free exchange of ideas, is an attack on the core principles the University lives by and may not be tolerated.” The university is not just limiting free speech by barring H*yas for Choice and other pro-choice perspectives from full enfranchisement in the University community; by allowing discourse around reproductive rights to be one-sided and by endorsing one particular viewpoint the University also eliminates any prospect for real, substantive dialogue.
1. In order to uphold Georgetown’s standards of free speech, it is imperative that student organizations have the ability to respectfully express their perspectives, including those that are pro-choice. 2. Prohibiting the recognition of H*yas for Choice as a legitimized student organization is in direct conflict with the Center for Student Programs free speech policy and Georgetown’s commitment to open dialogue. As such, H*yas for Choice or any future pro-choice organization should have equal status with all other student groups. This status imparts access to the same monetary benefits as all other groups and the ability to use Georgetown’s name and/or logo in association with the group.
As a university dedicated to the free exchange of ideas, social justice, and care of the whole person, Georgetown must transform its approach to reproductive justice, both in practice and in the dialogue it promotes. We hope that you will take the necessary steps to make Georgetown into the place it claims to be.
We look forward to a reply within a week.
H*yas for Choice and United Feminists