As reported in today’s Maroon article “After Roe, UCMC gives choice,” this past Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. As the article reports, the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) has made dramatic steps forward in making abortions, as well as contraceptive and reproductive health resources, easily available to students. The UCMC has also been a strong proponent of research and education efforts in the field, especially with the recently launched Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3), designed to address problems in reproductive health with a focus on assisting women on the South Side. However, despite such laudable medical resources, safe sex practices and reproductive health are rarely the subject of student discussion. The University would do well to better publicize these extensive sexual and reproductive health resources on behalf of the UCMC, as well as promote more discussion of such topics in campus culture.
Though students must attend a safe sex discussion during their Orientation Week, there is often little follow-up to the short presentation. Presentations to housing from Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) are available upon request from Resident Heads, but these efforts are limited to students living in housing. Rather than relegating reproductive health education to Orientation Week, there should be ongoing efforts to make the topic commonplace. With such initiatives as Tea Time and Sex Chats, students have demonstrated an interest in establishing a constant dialogue about sex and reproductive health. The University should respond to this interest with more initiatives of a similar nature.
A good start toward destigmatizing these topics would be for the University to more prominently advertise the wide-ranging services offered by the UCMC and Student Health Service (SHS). While having a sound infrastructure for reproductive health resources is critical, these efforts are all but worthless if students remain unaware of their existence or how to access them. For example, emergency contraception is available through SHS for a much lower cost than at other local pharmacies, but this is not common knowledge among students. Additionally, though students often rely mostly upon SHS for their common health needs, the UCMC has an abundance of other resources available to students, including affordable payment plans and outside funding sources for abortions through the Ryan Center.
Sex Week, occurring the week of February 11–17, combines education and discussion to bring an entire week of activities to students, ranging from workshops and seminars to simply tabling and giving out information. Funded in part by the Dean's Fund and the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC), this will be the first Sex Week to take place on UChicago’s campus. Many University offices will be represented during Sex Week’s activities, including Health Promotion and Wellness and the Office of LGBTQ Student Life. The University should also take advantage of the structure of Sex Week to directly publicize the many medical resources available to students at SHS and UCMC. The University could also offer permanent, institutional support to Sex Week, ensuring that such initiatives, and the dialogue they engender, endure and aren’t predicated on student efforts to gain funding. Lastly, it should take a cue from Sex Week’s activities and help facilitate conversation throughout the quarter, not just for a single week in February.
With greater attempts to connect students to extant resources, the University can continue to promote safe sex practices and knowledge of reproductive health resources. In light of the introduction of new enterprises like Ci3, it would be a shame for students to have reason to complain about an alleged lack of resources provided by the University. Sex Week and efforts like it indicate wider interest among students in discussing sexual and reproductive health. Now is an ideal time for the University to more systematically foster and promote it.
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