Co-Chair of Students for Reproductive Rights (SRR) Alisha Chaudhry ’19 gave a presentation to the St. Olaf Senate on Dec. 5, 2017, pushing for the installation of a vending machine containing various forms of contraceptives. Chaudhry proposed this vending machine could include Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, as well as other forms, and should be located in Buntrock Commons. Chaudhry and her fellow co-chair, Guadalupe Romero ’20, expressed frustration with the campus’ current state of contraception distribution and the administration’s continual lack of support for their initiative.
“I know you can get condoms at the Wellness Center, but that might be a little awkward,” Romero said. “And they’re not always open.”
Chaudhry and Romero think it is unwise to only offer contraception inside the Wellness Center and the health center and even more unwise to only offer Plan B in the health center.
At her presentation regarding the implementation of Plan B last year, Chaudhry outlined that Plan B is most effective when taken right after sex, and that students would need Plan B most often on weekends. For some students, acquiring Plan B quickly can be difficult due to the health center’s limited hours – it is open on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Romero also brought up the lack of advertising for the Plan B provided by the health center.
“They have Plan B, but no one knows that,” Romero said. “And they have STD testing which no one knows that because none of it’s advertised.”
In an email, Assistant Director for Wellness, Gender and Sexuality Jon Mergens explained the troubles St. Olaf could encounter while attempting to implement a Plan B vending machine.
“In regards to the proposal for a vending machine on campus, there are also some logistical challenges,” Mergens wrote. “I am not aware of a vendor that currently stocks Plan B in machines, and even with a vending machine on campus, students still would not have 24-hour access to Plan B on campus.”
Mergens also wrote that Plan B is available to students at Walgreens and Family Fare Supermarket, both of which are within walking distance.
According to Chaudhry however, off-campus transportation is not always readily available for students, making it difficult for some to acquire contraception.
SRR’s frustrations with the St. Olaf administration and policy making isn’t new. Former Co-Chair of SRR Malika Dale ’16 said that, during her time at St. Olaf, she was upset with the lack of transportation services available to abortion clinics. She also expressed discontent with the lack of the administration’s help in fundraising for a play about the trauma after rape and the refusal to grant Wellness Swipes for an SRR event that had a panel of three doctors and a nurse.
Dale also spoke about the difficulty she had advertising another play that SRR was trying to bring to campus called “One in Three.” The play tells stories about abortions through a series of vignettes.
“I put up my posters about it and rented all my space just like you’re supposed to do,” Dale said. “And the pro-life club started to advertise against me.”
Dale said that insulting comments were written on SRR’s posters for “One in Three.”
“Who invited the baby-killers to campus, when will this madness stop, pray for the babies, all that stuff,” Dale said.
Dale said that the animus against her and SRR on campus increased after the advertising of “One in Three.”
“I was getting letters in my P.O. box, I was getting letters taped to my P.O. box, I was getting letters on our informational hallway displays and on my door,” Dale said. “I was getting a little concerned about my safety. These letters were the classic ‘this is a Christian place and you’re ruining it’.”
Dale explained that her safety concerns were heightened because her father worked at St. Olaf and because of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting.
The Colorado Springs shooting happened on Nov. 27, 2015 when the assailant, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., entered a Planned Parenthood center, and killed three people, wounding nine others.
Due to the frequency of these letters and the recent attack, Dale spoke with Associate Dean of Students Justin Fleming about the harassment and if the delivery of suspicious or threatening mail to her P.O. box could be halted.
“He said that wasn’t possible,” Dale said. “I asked if we could remove my dorm address from the Ole directory and Fleming said that wasn’t possible. When I asked if I could remove my home address from the directory he gave me instructions of how I could do it later.”
According to Dale, Fleming also reminded her that violence tends to come from fringe activists, not mainstream pro-lifers.
Fleming declined to comment on Dale’s summary of their interaction.
Plan B vending machines have been implemented at other schools, including the University of Minnesota, Stanford University and the University of California Davis. Chaudhry still hopes that Plan B vending machines can be implemented at St. Olaf.
“If you notice in the library we do have a cookie vending machine now,” Chaudhry said. “It’s interesting to me that we have that, for four dollars a cookie, but something that’s actually a health resource for students isn’t being pushed.”