Health and Education Services (HES) claims that Georgetown adequately provides for students’ sexual health needs. Last year, at a panel on sexual health resources at Georgetown hosted by H*yas for Choice, HES director Carol Day told students that a “prescription is not guaranteed” for birth control pills used for contraception from SHC, but oral contraception could be prescribed for “other reasons”. Essentially, this policy means that birth control for contraceptive purposes is theoretically available—but only if you lie.
Consequently, H*yas for Choice began a reproductive justice campaign in November, soliciting students’ anonymous experiences of trying to access sexual health services through the Student Health Center through an online survey. So far, we have received fourteen responses, and our survey is ongoing. HFC is also publishing a more extensive report of our findings on our blog. By surveying students for their stories, we hoped to see how Georgetown students’ lived experiences compare to purported services.
Georgetown cloaks sexual health policy in deliberately vague language, leaving students caught in the middle as they struggle—and often fail—to frame their needs in the specific language required to actually access healthcare. In our survey, one student narrated how a sympathetic doctor told her she should state that her prescription was for “menstrual reasons” so that “no questions would be asked.” Another respondent reported a nurse telling her, “you should come back to me if you need another prescription … not everyone will prescribe this for you.” These policies encourage giving inaccurate information to your doctor, an idea fundamentally at odds with the basic principles of healthcare.
And yet, despite what Carol Day said, when students seek birth control for non-contraceptive reasons, their requests can still be denied. When trying to renew a prescription, a doctor told one survey respondent that “she could not continue prescribing me the pill since under [her] health records…[She] was on the pill for ‘contraceptive purposes,’” despite also taking it for dysmenorrhea and acne.
After another student asked her on-campus doctor about an intrauterine device (IUD), the doctor advised her “in a hushed voice,” because “technically she wasn’t supposed to be advising me on this.” That student now sees a private gynecologist for contraception without deception, and must pay a monthly $70 copayment. The University uses this smoke and mirrors charade to deny responsibility for the consequences of its policies.
Georgetown students face further financial obstacles when caring for their reproductive health. One would think that STI testing is less controversial and should be easier to obtain. Yet, “although the [health center attendants] had guaranteed several times that the charge would be only the $10 co-pay,” one respondent narrated after a visit for STI testing, “I received a charge of $197 for the lab work that was done … They didn’t let me know the lab work would be an extra charge before they went ahead with it.” The student continued, “There is no cost-effective way to make sure you don’t have STDs, and the student health center is not a solution.” The $200 students must pay for STI testing and expensive co-pays are just two financial barriers facing students seeking care. These basic services must be universally accessible, not just for the class-privileged.
When SHC persists in sex-negative and ambiguous coverage, students suffer. When students do visit, doctors often use shame to discourage necessary treatment. One student recalled, despite being a “responsible, sexually active young woman,” if she “had ever felt embarrassed about her sexuality,” it was at SHC because of how staff treated her after disclosing her sexual partner was not her boyfriend. Another commented that “the whole process felt very hostile.”Further, trans and gender nonconforming students have reported a lack of sensitivity from SHC staff, an offensive and unacceptable behavior from an institution claiming to value care of the whole person.
Our survey confirms what too many students know: there is a healthcare crisis at Georgetown. Despite disagreeing with the University’s position, we acknowledge Georgetown’s stance on contraception. Still, Georgetown can better care for students’ health without changing its position. Other Jesuit schools offer examples: each month, Loyola University Chicago and community partners provide free HIV testing.
Georgetown can stop providing confusing and contradictory information to students if SHC clarifies its policies and designates a point-person for matters of sexual health and birth control. Students need not waste time meeting with a provider who will refuse them service, and the University ought to provide regular, free STI screenings. Georgetown must provide sensitivity training to healthcare staff to end a culture that sex-shames and mistreats trans and gender nonconforming students.
Until then, Georgetown students have options outside of campus. For birth control purposes, we recommend checking online, as doctors at Planned Parenthood and other facilities offer online consultations, even sending prescriptions in the mail. We stand ready to help students navigate the confusing, dangerous mess that is Georgetown’s current health system, and will continue our advocacy until every Georgetown student has access to the services they need.