Knox is a place where Student Senate hands out condoms with its name stamped on them. Where the Student Health Advocacy Group, or SHAG, offers an anonymous contraceptive hotline. Where there’s a campus “Vibrarian” and “The Vibrator Play” is a mainstage production. Where the early discussions in the formation of Allies for Sexual Assault Prevention three years ago included an important corollary: that safe and consensual sex be discussed with an air of positivity.
Yet, birth control and emergency contraception are not available on campus. And if you want to know why, look no further than the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Though Knox isn’t religiously affiliated, OSF St. Mary’s, which staffs and operates Knox’s health services, certainly is. St. Mary’s is bound by a nationwide Catholic directive that it “may not promote or condone contraceptive practices but should provide, for married couples and the medical staff who counsel them, instruction both about the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood and in methods of natural family planning.”
Certainly, OSF has the right to deny services that conflict with its religious views. But for Knox, a liberal arts institution proud of its progressive, secular values, this is an egregious clash of priorities that the college administration must address with urgency. Knox students of various religious beliefs (or lack thereof) should not find themselves beholden to an organization whose mission statement begins with the phrase “In the spirit of Christ.” The college has an obligation to fill the gaps left by its contractual relationship with OSF St. Mary’s.
The college will offer the simple answer that health services staff will refer students to other Galesburg organizations, which provide these services. But we should not be satisfied with that answer, considering that a trip outside the Knox comfort zone may not be an option for a student seeking birth control or emergency contraception.
“Ideally, I would love for them to just change their carrier for health services,” sophomore Kayleigh O’Brien told TKS earlier this month. “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.”
Most of Knox’s peer institutions in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest offer birth control and emergency contraception for students on-site, and often at a considerably reduced compared to what one would pay over the counter. (This includes many ACM members who are religiously affiliated.) It’s time we demand the same of Knox.
Recently, the prospect of a Plan B vending machine has been circulating around various campus organizations. The concept originated in 2012 at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, and it later received FDA approval. Before such an idea is simply dismissed, the Knox community should seriously consider whether replicating that idea would be an appropriate measure to improve an area of student health services that is considerably lacking.
The total cost of Knox tuition, room and board will clock in just under $50,000 next year. It’s up to students to demand the basic services we deserve and make sure we’re not getting a raw deal.