The health care system currently available to Knox students is provided through OSF St. Mary’s, a Catholic hospital that does not provide students with access to contraception or many sexual health procedures. Condoms are available in the Health Center, but the center does not offer the morning after pill, birth control pills or STI testing.
Many students have been surprised and disappointed by the fact that Knox’s Health Center holds these policies.
“I think it says something about Knox that we pride ourselves in being so open-minded, diversified and progressive and even how we talk about how we were one of the first colleges to admit women, but here we are not allowing women to talk about sex, which is ridiculous,” sophomore Kayleigh O’Brien said.
O’Brien said that when she has gone to health services with questions related to sexual health, the people in the facility have not provided her with the knowledge she needed in order to remain safe and healthy.
“They’re not here to teach you and help you have better, more healthy sex,” she said. “All they’ll do is hand out condoms. There’s just not enough education on campus about sexual health.”
Junior Rachel Kuehnle and sophomore Carly Berinstein are the co-presidents of the club Advocates for Choice, a group that works in collaboration with Planned Parenthood to provide students with access to information about sexual health and to promote safe sex practices on campus.
“The state of health services on campus reflects that state of Galesburg. It’s unfortunate because the only two hospitals are religiously affiliated, so if you do need an abortion then you can’t have it here legally,” Kuehnle said. “Advocates for Choice would really like to push for it to be commonly known that Family Planning Services offers a free exam, regardless of gender, to all students and Knox pays for this.”
Knox has an agreement with Family Planning Service of Western Illinois on Main Street that allows all students to get one complete exam per year. The facility also can provide students with access to pregnancy testing, birth control, emergency contraceptives and other sexual health services.
Freshman Helen Hershey visited the clinic on Main Street during fall term in order to refill her birth control prescription.
“Overall, I felt like it was pretty easygoing,” she said. “The people there knew what they were doing. … They definitely knew how to use the resources they had and seemed pretty efficient at it.”
Berinstein said that while she supports the fact that students have access to the facility’s services, there are issues with it being the only option for Knox students. Advocates for Choice advertises awareness, but Berinstein is sure that many people aren’t aware of the sexual health options in Galesburg.
“Then there’s just normal anxiety about going to a specific family planning clinic,” Berinstein said. “We’ve seen that a lot. Maybe a woman isn’t comfortable going there alone because she’s afraid of being judged or something like that. It would be a lot easier to go into a doctor’s office where people don’t know why you are there.”
Hershey agreed and noted that the location of the clinic is not nearly as accessible as having it at Knox would be.
“I guess being at a liberal arts school you could almost expect to have more of that kind of services available on campus, so I was kind of surprised that I would have to go off campus for that … it wasn’t the most convenient location for me.”
Due to their frustrations with health services, students have ideas for ways that Knox can begin to move forward in providing better access to contraception on campus.
“What I was thinking about is if there’s a possibility of them partnering with OSF and Family Planning, but partnering with them so they can get Plan B and the pill available on campus. I think that would be an interesting solution, but I’m unsure if it’s a viable option,” Kuehnle said.
O’Brien suggested that the school begin by talking to the feminist organizations on campus to get a sense of how students are feeling about these issues. She also recommended that the college hold a women’s health forum to acknowledge the needs of the women on campus.
“Ideally, I would love for them to just change their carrier for health services. I mean, I don’t really know how those things work, but it would be great if we could see a non-affiliated health service,” she said. “Because that’s what it’s for – health. It’s not for religion, it’s not for morals. It is there to make sure we’re all healthy.”
Berinstein noted that despite the problems with health services, she is very happy that she is a part of a community that is generally very positive about sexual health.
“Knox as a student body is really all for having access to contraceptives, all for sexual health, all for sexual education. That is one of the most valuable parts of having an education here. . . . The fact that Knox as an institution doesn’t really seem to appreciate that is a disparity that I don’t really like. On the bright side, we live in a community that is really great for that and the fact that we have Advocates for Choice, SASS and SHAG shows that we can do pretty much anything we want.”