On Wednesday the Students for Reproductive Rights Club was declined to receive formal club status by Gonzaga.
“The goal was to bring to Gonzaga a space where we could talk about reproductive rights and sexual health and sex in general in a safe and constructive environment where we could have actual educational material and talk about all these things in a more educated way than what we typically get on this campus,” said Elaine Rickards, the vice president of Students for Reproductive Rights and a senior at GU.
The club would act as a place for students to learn about sexual and reproductive health through their affiliation with Planned Parenthood.
“We have a lot of different Generation Actions across the region and the nation,” said Sarah Dixit, a senior field organizer for greater Washington at Planned Parenthood. “An example would be our Eastern campus got an emergency contraception vending machine available on campus through a partnership with us. And with the resources to get that along with their health center. Another example would be at the University of Idaho where they have free menstrual products in bathrooms. We want to help amplify the desires of the club to change their campus in a very influential way and making sure that we help them in whatever way we can.”
The plan was to create a chapter of Planned Parenthood’s student organization called Generation Action which is created for students and run by students. It would allow the club to have access to Planned Parenthood's educational resources and without the partnership the club leaders were worried that the club would not be able to reach its full potential.
“It would be there as a resource and as a place where students can come together in solidarity to spark those conversations that aren’t being had at Gonzaga and we can provide those resources that currently aren’t on campus,” said Anna Algate, the president of Students for Reproductive Rights and a senior at GU.
The goal of the club would be to promote sexual and reproductive health and give students a safe place to learn and talk about these types of issues.
“We know that, obviously at a Catholic university, a lot of people who go here have gone to Catholic school their whole life and come from very Catholic families and in a lot of cases have had a very limited sex education in general," Rickards said. “A lot of our ideas worked around having people from organizations like Planned Parenthood or even from hospitals or medical facilities come to campus and talk about what that looks like.”
They went through the regular club approval process through the Gonzaga Student Body Association. At each stage questions came up from officials about the clubs affiliation with Planned Parenthood, however, the club was passed along up to the dean of student engagement, who has the final say on if a club gets approved or not.
“The ultimate decision came down to the connection the Students for Reproductive Rights Club wanted to have with Generation Action which is a part of the Planned Parenthood network,” said Matt Lamsma, the dean of student engagement. “The conflict is between Planned Parenthood and the universities Jesuit/Catholic identity. Any student clubs with an affiliation to an outside organization, that organization has to align with institutional values.”
Before making a decision on the club's official status Algate and Rickards were asked by Lamsma to meet with him, Michelle Wheatley, the chief mission officer and leadership of the Mission and Ministry Division, Megan McCabe, assistant professor of religious studies and the club's adviser Joe Johnston, assistant professor of sociology and criminology.
They spoke about options for the club and what would happen if they were to move forward and came to the conclusion that if they were to be a club affiliated with GU they would have to drop their affiliation with Planned Parenthood.
“With the Jesuit campuses no other Jesuit university has a Generation Action or Planned Parenthood group that has been formally approved on campus,” Lamsma said. “Several of the campuses are aware of unofficial student groups that meet but nobody has an approved club and I heard back from 18 out of the 27 universities.”
By being affiliated with Planned Parenthood the club would not be able to be approved because the ideology of that organization does not align with the ideologies of Catholic and Jesuit institutions.
“We went into that meeting with a lot idealistic ideas of what could happen and kind of felt as though they all were just afraid of it and they didn’t know exactly what the rules were and because they didn’t know what the rules were they didn’t have the guts to be bold and challenge them which is kind of what Anna and I were trying to do,” Rickards said. “We wanted to put this out there and see what kind of response we get because we don’t know what the rules are either.”
While no Jesuit institution has an official reproductive rights club like this, other religious schools like Whitworth University, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian church, does.
“Faith and Planned Parenthood aren’t in opposition of each other,” said Paul Dillon, the vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood. “That’s a common misconception about our work. There’s a national group called Catholics for Choice and a lot of our patients and staff are practicing Catholics, so I think this comes down to more extreme interpretation of those values.”
As of right now the club has been denied and cannot be affiliated with GU unless they lose their Planned Parenthood connection, but Rickards and Algate plan to keep working to make their club have an impact on campus.
“People need to know that there are students and faculty for that matter who do support. Whether that’s from a pro-choice standpoint or even just bringing in Planned Parenthood as a resource on campus,” Algate said. “I also think that there’s a large portion of Gonzaga’s community that’s not being represented and this club could do a great job of representing.”
While the plan to move forward is not set in stone Rickards and Algate know they will continue to do work to have an impact in the coming semester.