In August, we started the long process of creating the Students for Reproductive Rights club.
Initially, our intention was to be part of Planned Parenthood’s (PP) Generation Action, an organization that works on college campuses around the nation to provide students with resources around sex education, healthy relationships, mental health counseling, STI tests and more. We were denied by Gonzaga University administration because of our affiliation with Planned Parenthood and the misbelief that Planned Parenthood does not align with the values of a Jesuit university.
We recognize this issue is bigger than GU. Planned Parenthood has been portrayed as the organization directly in opposition with pro-life Catholics. But the caricature of PP that has been created simply doesn’t align with the lived experiences of our students who use its services.
Many of our Catholic and Christian students on campus utilize the resources Planned Parenthood provides. We cannot nullify these students’ Catholic faiths by preserving the idea that the services Planned Parenthood provides are in opposition with our values as a Jesuit university; these two are inclusive, not mutually exclusive.
It is also difficult for us to perpetuate the erasure of PP in light of our university’s Mission Statement, which calls us to be in “solidarity with the poor and vulnerable.”
Many of the most vulnerable in our community are students who would have no medical alternative if it wasn’t for Planned Parenthood’s financially and physically accessible location near our campus. They provide health care that improves the lives of the most marginalized in our community.
Sexual well-being is primarily about accessibility, and many opposed to recognizing Planned Parenthood say students can find resources such as STI testing at our campus health center.
However, due to social teaching, our health center isn’t able to prescribe contraception, unless for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.
Additionally, this issue extends beyond reproductive needs. Our health center doesn’t offer Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a drug often prescribed to men who have sex with men, which reduces their chance of contracting HIV by 99%.
By not prescribing PrEP and erasing the existence of an organization that provides it affordably to queer men, it’s hard to come up with a rationale that these layered preventions of access are anything short of institutionalized homophobia.
Furthermore, most students we have spoken with have voiced feeling uncomfortable and unsupported when they go into the health center with the goal of addressing concerns surrounding their sexual health.
Our club’s main focus would be to reduce this stigma and connect students to vital resources and education that promote sexual well-being, the most convenient and reliable being Planned Parenthood.
When the club was denied, administration provided us with the option to disassociate from PP to have the club creation granted. Matt Lamsma reached out to over 30 Jesuit campuses and found none of them had allowed a club affiliated with PP to be created, however, several exist without official recognition by their university.
To ask this club to be created without Planned Parenthood’s support is to minimize its reach, as Planned Parenthood provides sex education resources that would offer structure, support and purpose that are not available on campus.
To say this process was frustrating for us is an understatement. We had meetings with many individuals in the administration and consistently felt that they were not listening to issues we were
putting forward and did not respect the time or effort we had invested or the limited time left in this academic year.
After almost seven months of these prolonged meetings, we have decided to continue as a club without any official affiliation with Planned Parenthood, but with a strong desire to bring comprehensive sex education, as well as resources to promote safe and healthy sex to GU’s campus.
In our last meeting, administrators expressed the notion that our university is operating with an undercurrent of fear.
We have the opportunity to be better than our university. This gives students, staff, alumni and community members a chance to speak louder than the people who are against us, to fight harder for what we believe in, to stand taller on these issues than our university ever will and to show our community what can be accomplished when we come together.
We are seeking to build a broad and diverse coalition of GU community members who can advance this initiative forward and we need every one of you who believes in reproductive rights for all.
We encourage everyone to join us for our first meeting and to keep an eye out for specifics about time and location.