Content Warning: This article discusses difficult topics, including abortion, sexual assault, and domestic violence. Please be aware and read at your own comfort.
Last Wednesday, I participated in the With Mutual Respect Series panel on abortion on the pro-choice side. Below is an excerpt of my remarks in response to the question: “How does the overturning of Roe v. Wade affect students? What impact does it have on the Providence College student body?”
My first instinct with the above question was to argue that the overturn of Roe barely impacts our community, because PC has never supported the reproductive rights of its students in the first place. The overturn of Roe did not cause PC community members to lose anything that they had beforehand because at Providence College, a woman’s bodily autonomy has never been recognized or respected. This is salient in the College’s blatant refusal to allow students to access contraceptives anywhere on campus, the Health Center charging hundreds of dollars for a basic STD test, their erasure of pro-choice voices on campus, and their extremely insufficient handling of Title IX offenses including sexual harassment, stalking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. It is salient in their indifference to the numerous outbreaks of STDs over the past few years. In the past year alone, PC has had outbreaks of chlamydia and of hand, foot, and mouth. Trojan actually ranks us as one of the worst schools in the country when it comes to STD transmission. All of these problems were problems at PC long before Roe was overturned.
But the overturn actually does have dangerous impacts on our community. It allows for the Administration to intellectually and legally justify their continued denial of our safety, bodily autonomy, and rights to freedom of speech and assembly. It allows them to justify their willful ignorance about the harm that PC’s culture around sex and reproduction has on its student body. It also emboldens the pro-life presence on campus, as they have begun accosting students outside of the Library, Slavin, and other public places on campus more regularly, and have been bringing in more pro-life speakers than in previous years.
PC is a school with a large hookup culture, but this is rarely acknowledged. In the last panel, pro-life panelist and faculty member Dr. Sandra Keating stated that college students just should not be having sex because she didn’t when she was in college. This line of thinking ignores the fact that we live in a secular world and that the overwhelming majority of students do not conform to the Catholic counterculture that the Dominicans aspire to. This is especially scary to think about when considering that PC is planning on entering the healthcare field directly by opening a Nursing school next year.
If PC is going to truly be a diverse place, it has a responsibility to protect all students, regardless of their beliefs. PC students should not be punished for having different values from the administration.
In ignoring that most PC students are sexually active, PC sets itself up to fail students because of the lack of resources for sexual assault and harassment, dating violence, and STDs. The overturn of Roe is scary because it gives administrators the green light to continue to justify these subpar procedures and resources. It creates a culture of silence, fear, and ignorance about sexual coercion, sexual violence, affirmative consent, STD transmission, and risky sexual behavior, a culture that normalizes these occurrences by doing nothing to stand against them, and a culture that protects rapists and harms survivors. That is what is most dangerous about the overturn of Roe.