On Sept. 7, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced controversial changes she intended to implement at the Department of Education regarding Title IX, a law requiring gender equity in institutions receiving federal funding. While these changes specifically affect campus sexual assault, another issue involving gender inequality on college campuses has gone widely ignored for years: reproductive health.
Students’ ability to make safe, healthy decisions about their bodies is integral to their ability to pursue academic excellence. About 80 percent of the millions of Planned Parenthood patients across the country go to the women’s health organization as their main source of contraceptive access, which Planned Parenthood relies on Medicaid reimbursements to provide. But in April, President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing states to take away Medicaid funding from organizations that provide abortion services, which could result in the shutdown of local clinics around colleges that female college students rely on.
The potential for this women’s health care insufficiency must be addressed by institutions of higher learning such as USC. Universities have an obligation to offer reliable access to crucial reproductive health resources on campuses, or perpetuate inequality by placing a burden on female students but not their male peers. For example, female students in need of abortion services are often forced to miss class, internships or their jobs to travel to have the procedure, incurring costs and anxiety that can impede their academic performances.
On USC’s campus, the absence of reliable, hormonal birth control options or emergency contraception only increases the risk of unintended pregnancy, and the lack of childcare services offered at the University amount to a difficult environment for female students with children.
In April, UC Davis made monumental progress in this area. The institution installed a Plan B vending machine, which offered — among other reproductive healthcare products — emergency contraception, condoms, pregnancy tests, tablets for urinary pain relief and a range of feminine hygiene products. At UC Berkeley, the student government passed a resolution demanding medication abortion in the campus health center, and the university’s Students United for Reproductive Justice group took an active role in moving state legislation to require all California public colleges offer the abortion pill. The legislation passed the State Assembly and the Health Committee of the State Senate, and is presently being considered by the Education Committee.
Public colleges in the state of California are doing their part to promote gender equity by prioritizing reproductive health on college campuses. As a well-endowed private institution, there is no excuse for USC to be lagging behind. USC’s health center carries condoms, menstrual products and a number of birth control services on an appointment-basis, and Plan B at its campus pharmacy. But long lines and inconvenient scheduling to access these products ignores the sense of urgency around reproductive health. Immediately accessible distribution of Plan B on campuses through vending machines in residential halls is crucial because the number of hours between unprotected sex and ingestion of Plan B must be minimized in order to be effective.
That being said, this is not just about Plan B. There is a reason that UC Davis’ reproductive health vending machine carries a number of different products: Reproductive health is a broad issue ranging from preventing pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections to accommodating students with unique family situations and gender orientations.
Ideological reservations about female sexuality, gender nonconformity and casual sex should not dictate the living standards and opportunities of USC’s students. And simultaneously, many situations involving the need for reproductive health care do not arise out of student choices.
As an institution of higher learning, USC is in its best shape when every member of its diverse study body is in the best position to contribute their unique skills and intellectual capital, and when male and female students are on equal footing to excel in their academics. The stress and mental and physical health struggles and range of other barriers to accessing crucial health care services can impede young women’s ability to succeed. If not out of concern with morality and student well-being, USC should, at the very least, note how offering incomplete reproductive health care could negatively impact its prestige as an elite institution.
Reproductive health care is not expensive to provide; if anything, it is an investment in ensuring that University students have everything they need to succeed. The limited accessibility of reliable women’s health care is not only detrimental to the University at large, but also arguably contribute to campus gender inequity.
Daily Trojan Fall 2017 Editorial Board