Open Letter of Demands to President DeGioia

An Open Letter to President John J. DeGioia                                    
February 5, 2010

Dear President DeGioia,

As a Catholic, Jesuit institution Georgetown University is committed to the principles of social justice and open dialogue. While Georgetown offers a myriad of ways to engage with and promote these ideals, its interpretations of both have been selective rather than comprehensive. Adhering to these principles in an honest and non-discriminatory way requires Georgetown to re-evaluate its consideration of and practice regarding reproductive justice.

First, Georgetown must acknowledge reproductive justice as a social justice issue. Georgetown’s current attitude and policies misunderstand reproductive justice as a limited set of concerns and practices removed from a socio-economic context. This narrow scope dangerously compromises Georgetown’s commitment to social justice. Issues related to reproductive justice disproportionately affect the lives of people in historically marginalized communities, such as women, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged– the very communities for which Georgetown professes to advocate.

In addition, the approach Georgetown has taken with regard to discourse around these same issues has been anything but dialogue-promoting. Rather than allow students to openly engage with and discuss issues of choice, sexual health, and contraception, which undeniably shape the society we inhabit, university policies stifle and even prohibit this important exchange of ideas. These issues are forcibly removed from student dialogue, making it almost impossible for them to be approached with anything other than closed-mindedness and ignorance.

In order to be in accordance with its own policies and stated principles, Georgetown University must change the way that it approaches issues related to dialogue and practice around reproductive justice and sex education. As a coalition of students, we have outlined specific steps Georgetown must take in order to fully respect the rights and needs of all of its students.
I. Access to Material Resources
1.   Condoms should be available on campus. Stores on Georgetown University property, along with the Georgetown Hospital pharmacy, should be able to sell condoms. This access is crucial to the health and safety of Georgetown students.
2.   Birth control pills for contraceptive purposes, other contraceptive methods, and emergency contraception must be prescribed in the Student Health Center, distributed by Georgetown Hospital pharmacy, and covered by Georgetown’s insurance policy.
3.   Rape kits must be provided at Georgetown University Hospital. On a college campus with alarmingly high rates of sexual assault and rape, it is crucial that Georgetown actively advocate on behalf of its female students. In the case that rape kits cannot be made available due to the hospital’s inability to treat such cases, free transportation to and from the alternate location must be provided to Georgetown students by Georgetown University.
4.   The HPV vaccine, Gardasil, must be stocked and available in the Student Health Center at all times.
II. Access to Informational Resources: Full Disclosure
1.   Comprehensive sex education
§  Sex education at Georgetown should be available and facilitated through the office of Health Education Services. As part of their responsibilities as the providers of health education, this department should host semesterly sex-education programs. These programs should explicitly cover contraceptive options, safe-sex measures specific to LGBTQ communities, and the full range of options available to pregnant students. The staff of Health Education Services should be equipped with the necessary resources in order to offer explicit, comprehensive and non-heteronormative information.
§  Although Health Education Services is the institutional resource for sex education, student groups and other departments should be uninhibited and encouraged in promoting the dissemination of information related to sexual health.
§  Georgetown must cease its censorship of programming that includes information about non-reproductive sexual practices.

2.   Health Education Services must be able, at all times, to fully disclose all legal options for students with regard to contraceptives and abortion services.
§  Staff should be able to offer information about these services without the students’ explicit request; it should not be assumed that students have prior knowledge of the full range of contraceptive options or abortion services, nor should they be discouraged by Georgetown University staff from pursuing any of their legal options.
§  The concern of the university should always be the health and safety of its students. Staff must, then, be willing and able to inform students on every available option and help them make the decision that is best for their particular situation.

III. Free Speech and Open Dialogue: Adherence to a Consistent Moral Ethic
“Discourse is central to the life of the university. To forbid or limit discourse contradicts everything the university stands for.” ­
            –Center for Student Programs Speech and Expression Policy

The Center for Student Programs Speech and Expression policy explicitly states that all students “enjoy the right to freedom of speech and expression. This freedom includes the right to express points of view on the widest range of public and private concerns and to engage in the robust expression of ideas” subject only to restrictions of “time, place, and manner.” All student groups, therefore, have the right to engage in open, uncensored dialogue and discussion around all issues, including reproductive justice and abortion.

According to this policy, the ideology behind H*yas for Choice or any other pro-choice student group cannot in itself be sufficient grounds to bar it from full recognition as a student group or the benefits that accompany that status. As stated in the Center for Student Programs’ Speech and Expression Policy, “Violation of these principles, by whatever parties, must have consequences…Making it impossible for others to speak or be heard or seen, or in any way obstructing the free exchange of ideas, is an attack on the core principles the University lives by and may not be tolerated.” The university is not just limiting free speech by barring H*yas for Choice and other pro-choice perspectives from full enfranchisement in the University community; by allowing discourse around reproductive rights to be one-sided and by endorsing one particular viewpoint the University also eliminates any prospect for real, substantive dialogue.

1.  In order to uphold Georgetown’s standards of free speech, it is imperative that student organizations have the ability to respectfully express their perspectives, including those that are pro-choice.
2.  Prohibiting the recognition of H*yas for Choice as a legitimized student organization is in direct conflict with the Center for Student Programs free speech policy and Georgetown’s commitment to open dialogue. As such, H*yas for Choice or any future pro-choice organization should have equal status with all other student groups. This status imparts access to the same monetary benefits as all other groups and the ability to use Georgetown’s name and/or logo in association with the group.

As a university dedicated to the free exchange of ideas, social justice, and care of the whole person, Georgetown must transform its approach to reproductive justice, both in practice and in the dialogue it promotes. We hope that you will take the necessary steps to make Georgetown into the place it claims to be.

We look forward to a reply within a week.


H*yas for Choice and United Feminists