2nd Open Letter to President DeGioia

Open Letter- March 4, 2010

Dear President DeGioia,

Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice received a response last week from Todd Olson, Vice President of Student Affairs, regarding our February 5th letter expressing the need for changes in the University’s reproductive justice policies. In his response, Olson writes,
Georgetown University is committed to the free exchange of ideas. Through its Speech and Expression policy, the University provides students the opportunity to participate in dialogue on a wide range of issues. As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, however, Georgetown cannot support organizations whose stated purpose conflicts with Catholic moral teaching. For that reason, H*yas for Choice, a group whose constitution espouses ’advocating for reproductive choice‘ is not eligible for access to university benefits.
If Georgetown University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, it logically follows that all student groups should have the right to engage in open, uncensored dialogue and discussion on all issues, including reproductive justice and abortion. If the exchange of ideas is limited to those in line with Catholic moral teaching, however, that exchange is not free. By funding GU Right to Life and hosting pro-life conferences on campus while simultaneously refusing benefits to pro- choice organizations, the University is explicitly allowing the discussion of certain views while silencing others. This does not show a commitment to a free exchange of ideas, but rather a commitment to silencing an entire community’s concerns about health and well being on our campus. We implore you to reexamine your stance on these issues and consider the importance that funding has in creating actual free speech and dialogue on this campus.

It is particularly upsetting that the voices silenced by Georgetown’s access to benefits policy are primarily those of women. The list of expectations outlined in our previous letter are reasonable and relevant issues important to the health and well-being of Georgetown students, and the lack of access to sexual health resources, both material and informational, predominately affects marginalized student groups such as women, people of color, and economically disadvantaged people.

While Dr. Olson’s letter predominately discusses the issue of the access to benefits policy and free speech rights on campus, he also directly responded to two of the many demands we made in our previous letter. In response to our demand for rape kits at the University hospital, he writes,
District of Columbia residents have access to the services of a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) at the Washington Hospital Center. Because this is the only site in the city authorized to provide such assistance, Georgetown, like other universities in the District, refers patients to the Hospital Center for treatment.
While we believe that survivors of rape should receive the full and complete care offered by SANE, we also fear that the current referral system does not adequately address the issues that surround the physical, emotional, and mental ramifications of sexual assault. Dr. Olson’s letter mentions a referral from the GU Hospital, but fails to address the logistics of transportation to and from Washington Hospital Center. It is unconscionable to expect a survivor of rape to find her/his own way to and from Washington Hospital Center after being sexually assaulted. While we would hope that Georgetown has a plan in place to make sure that survivors of sexual assault are transported to and from Washington Hospital Center, information about services for survivors of sexual assault on Georgetown’s Health Education Services website make this seem very unlikely. The site refers students who have been sexually assaulted to the phone number of a GU staff member who is currently on leave from the University. When we called the Georgetown Emergency Room to ask if they or the University facilitate transportation for student rape survivors to the Washington Hospital Center, they recommended calling a cab. When pressed, they said that a MedStar transport could be set up, but that it would take longer than a taxi. Expecting a student to pay for and ride in a taxi with a stranger after being sexually assaulted is absolutely unacceptable. It is the duty of the University to care for the health and safety of its students, and this includes facilitating access to SANE.

The third demand to which Dr. Olson responds involves the issue of access to the HPV vaccine at the Student Health Center. While getting a seasonal flu shot is easy for students, getting a vaccine for an infection that gives rise to about 25,000 cancer cases a year, is made excessively difficult for students to obtain. Currently, the student health center does not stock the HPV vaccine, and students who wish to receive the vaccine must: 1) make an appointment to receive a prescription for the vaccine; 2) make a second appointment to receive the vaccine; and 3) fill the prescription before returning. The medication must either be picked up from the pharmacy right before the appointment or refrigerated until the time of the appointment. While Dr. Olson believes that this process makes the vaccine available to all students, it is not a legitimate alternative to having the vaccine stocked in the health center because of its economic ramifications. As the Student Health Center’s website points out, after paying out of pocket for the vaccine at the pharmacy, a student must wait for reimbursement.
Submit your receipt from your pharmacy to your insurance company for reimbursement. Students with the Premier-UHC plan (the only one offered by the University) will be reimbursed by their insurance after deduction of $15 copayment. Other insurance plans may or may not reimburse you for the cost of the vaccine, so you should check the coverage of your individual plan.
The cost of the HPV vaccine is $174 per inoculation from the GU pharmacy ($522 for all 3 vaccines), and paying this price up front and waiting to be reimbursed by an insurance company is not economically feasible for many students. This process of procuring the vaccine adds unnecessary barriers that disproportionately affect students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Georgetown’s commitment to social justice requires that the administration rethink this policy and its negative effects on the health and safety of Georgetown students.
Finally, we were very disappointed to find that Dr. Olson failed to address access to contraceptives and access to comprehensive sexual health information in his response to our letter. These components are crucial aspects in ensuring the health and safety of Georgetown students. We request a response by March 15 in order to set up a meeting with you the week of March 15-19 to further discuss the issues of reproductive justice at Georgetown.


The Students of Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice planahoyas@gmail.com